Nokia's worst nightmare: a successful MeeGo N9

Nokia's worst nightmare: a successful MeeGo N9

Summary: Nokia has unveiled its N9, and it looks great. What looks particularly great is the Linux distro it's running, MeeGo.

TOPICS: Telcos

Nokia has unveiled its N9, and it looks great. What looks particularly great is the Linux distro it's running, MeeGo.

Not that you could tell it's running MeeGo from Nokia's press releases or promotional bumpf: the OS's name is nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. I find this hilarious, and I think it's a strategy that — maybe, just maybe — could backfire.

Quick context now. MeeGo is the bastard child of Nokia's Maemo and Intel's Moblin, unveiled in February 2010 and dumped precisely one year later when Nokia revealed a new tie-in with Microsoft over the Windows Phone platform. As part of that deal, Symbian will be phased out over the next couple of years, and MeeGo... well, MeeGo gets a single handset release.

That'll be the N9, then, the contractual obligation record. MeeGo may have more success in the tablet and netbook arena, but as far as phones go, barring a fork down the road, this is it — well, this and the N950, but that's a developer-only phone. Thing is, the N9 looks great. It appears smooth, well-designed and intuitive, and there's the problem.

Who are Nokia's customers right now? Mostly Nokia loyalists, I'd imagine, people who don't care about the OS all that much — otherwise, they'd have left Nokia behind a while ago. Imagine a Nokia loyalist walking into a store and seeing a Symbian phone next to the N9. Bearing in mind that Nokia hasn't delivered its Windows Phones just yet, I'd call it a no-brainer.

The N9 offers the most important apps — yes, it has nowhere near the ecosystem of its rivals, but Nokia's video ad shows it has Twitter and apps of that ilk, which is all some people may want (stay with me here; I'm playing devil's advocate) — in an attractive package. It certainly looks a million times more usable than Symbian, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the UI design elements reappearing in Nokia's implementation of Windows Phone.

What is more, ignoring the handset's OS name might work in favour of actually selling the thing — don't start that conversation in the first place, and you stay out of the fight with Android and iPhone, to some extent.

So, depending on the price and Nokia's will, there is a vague chance that the N9 might take off. If that happens, it would utterly undermine the Microsoft tie-in. If nothing else, Nokia will have to get its first Windows Phone out as close as possible to the release of the N9.

I've asked Nokia whether the company intends to throw its full promotional weight behind the N9. I'm intrigued to hear the reply.

UPDATE (Wednesday): "There is no particular reason why it wasn't in the press release," a Nokia spokesperson has just told me, adding that MeeGo is mentioned on the N9 data sheet and the company will be "fully supporting" the handset. I'll leave analysis of that information up to you, good reader. Nokia N9 UI demo, also without a single mention of MeeGo

Topic: Telcos

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • "What looks particularly great is the Linux distro it's running, MeeGo."

    It's actually running Harmattan (Maemo 6), which has API compatibility with MeeGo 1.2
  • David - interesting and very insightful. I think that I might be a good example of the customer you mentioned above. I have never bought any mobile phone other than Nokia, ever, neither for myself nor for the various friends and family I have helped with the decision. As of the time that Nokia announced their sellout to Microsoft, I will never buy another Nokia phone, ever. Too bad, because you are correct the N9 looks pretty interesting, and I had been looking forward to trying out MeeGo on a phone. But you are right about something else too - Microsoft will not allow Nokia to succeed with a MeeGo handset under any circumstances. So not only will there be little or no "promotional weight" behind the N9, and there will continue to be no mention of the OS.

  • @jw Surely the best course of action is to buy and recommend the Nokia N9 and hope for it's success. One in the eye of your favourite villain.
    The Former Moley
  • Lets hope its a very clever move by Nokia that is actually a 'duping' attempt to put the nail in the coffin of Windows Phone 7 (though it doesn't need much help - its expensive, two years late and still in pre-production). Nokia, having played for time to fully develop their own phone using MS finances, they can finally exit the MS Route if this proves successful.
    Why do I think this? - In the past Nokia were so anti Microsoft, their installers didn't even use Windows API based software. It feels like there are two camps at Nokia at the moment, personally I hope the non-Microsoft Nokia camp wins through.
  • @Moley - Not a bad suggestion, in other circumstances. But not for me, not this time.

    @SoapyTablet - You are right about Nokia's previous anti-Microsoft stance. But you have to consider the person sitting in the CEO's office now. I absolutely believe that he is there for a reason. I believe that the non-Microsoft camp has already lost.

  • @ David Gilson: Meego 1.2 = Maemo 6.0 = Harmattan, effectively.
    David Meyer
  • Good analysis David.
    @jw I fear your analysis is also spot on.

    With any reasonably tech savvy salesperson at a mobile retailer they are going to have to declare that the platform on this phone is being abandoned by Nokia. I do hope it is a success because even without a lot of apps it makes for an excellent phone - especially with NFC, a great camera and Nokia Maps. I'm afraid that it will need real demo space in store to show it and that doesn't look like happening.

    Another worry is that Elop will ensure that it has limited distribution as currently there is no place to "display an interest" for most of the main markets.

    My final worry is on price. I imagine that it will be priced at the higher end of expectations even though it has no expandable storage.
  • My suspicion is that Nokia have a contractual obligation to ship a certain number of Meego handsets.

    I notice that there are 6 countries selected for Nokia Windows Phone launch: I suspect that the selection of these 6 countries is based on effort of localisation (both of phone, support and marketting material) vs. market size vs. the influence that this market has on other markets in the world. In other words Nokia Windows Phone is launching in the 6 countries considered most important to succeed in by Nokia.

    I also notice that there are 23 countries from which you can register interest in the Nokia N9. Presumably the selection criteria was something similar to that which they used for Windows Phone, except there is no overlap at all with the 6 countries that Nokia are launching the Windows Phone device in.

    Clearly Nokia have no intention of making it easy for a consumer to put a Nokia N9 together with a Nokia Windows Phone and make any kind of comparison.

    Draw your own conclusions.
  • @jw: "I have never bought any mobile phone other than Nokia... I will never buy another Nokia phone, ever."
    I'm intrigued, which mobile phone will you buy?! Something Android?
    Jake Rayson