MeeGo at the crossroads

If any good is to come out of Oracle suing Google over Android, the one to benefit could be MeeGo, the Intel-Nokia joint-venture mobile operating system.

Oracle’s threat against the search giant for its alleged use of patented Java technology could, if it succeeds, open the way for MeeGo to jump into the mobile market more fully. And right now MeeGo could do with a boost.

MeeGo was announced at the start of the year with Intel and Nokia merging their respective Moblin and Maemo operating systems. But it was only in June that version 1.0 of the OS was released formally. Since then it has only appeared on a handful of devices, the most recent of which will be the Nokia N9, expected out later this year.

Users can expect to see more Nokia devices running MeeGo in the future as the company has now decided to drop Symbian from its high-end smartphone ranges and replace it with MeeGo. Using MeeGo instead of Android has some advantages for Nokia, the primary one being that Nokia remains in charge of both the hardware and software components of its phones. This is similar to the way Apple and RIM control the entire environment in their phones which can lead to higher quality products in the end.

The disadvantage of this strategy is that it is expensive and difficult to manage both components effectively. The alternative is to outsource one of the components, as Motorola has done in dropping its Linux OS and plugging in Android. The result is better quality hardware and an OS that is popular.

That’s Nokia’s other problem. Once the darling of the cellphone world, Symbian has been allowed to date and MeeGo has yet to really spark any excitement with users. Technically MeeGo may be outstanding but no-one is falling over themselves to get a MeeGo device like they are for Android ones. Obviously it is still early days for MeeGo but while it still tries to get up to speed Android is streaming ahead.

MeeGo advantages

MeeGo does have some significant advantages over Android however, one of which is Oracle’s threat to Google which will likely spread a fair amount of uncertainty in the market. MeeGo could capitalise on this and encourage developers to develop the range of applications it offers.

The other major advantage MeeGo has is that it is a more pure Linux-based mobile phone OS than Android, which means that it is easier to port existing Linux applications across to MeeGo. That’s in theory. Even with strong links into the Linux developer community MeeGo is going to have to up its appeal. It doesn’t matter how easy it is to port, or develop, applications to MeeGo if it is limited to just a couple of obscure Nokia smartphones. And right now that’s exactly how MeeGo is positioned.

MeeGo’s third major advantage, over Android at least, is that its development is a more open process. Google typically develops new versions of Android behind closed doors with a select few partners. Everyone else has to wait for the final release for access to the software. MeeGo’s development, on the other hand, is open throughout so anyone who wants to participate, can.

Android pluses

Android’s advantages over MeeGo are numerous. The most obvious of which is that Android has “geek sex appeal”. Every new feature of Android is welcomed with great fanfare, no matter how small. MeeGo just doesn’t get the same attention. 

Android’s other major advantage is that it is shipping, on a growing number of devices including tablet devices. A good OS in the real world is always better than an excellent one that still has to be deployed.

The third advantage for Android is Google’s habit of aggressive development. In just a few years Google has taken Android from zero to the second most popular smartphone OS. MeeGo is yet to feature on the mobile phone OS charts.

MeeGo still has a mountain to climb if it is to gain any traction in the market. Despite its obviously good pedigree and huge potential, MeeGo now looks like it is facing a make or break point in its history. If it doesn’t gain more widespread recognition and use in the very near future, it could become yet another millstone around Nokia’s neck.

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MeeGo at the crossroads