Meego/Harmattan – A willfully misunderstood platform.

Huzzah! The Nokia N9 has finally arrived in a genuinely consumer-oriented package. Granted, it is not step-five-of-five given the February 11th announcement to abandon Meego as Nokia’s smartphone future, but it is getting rave reviews even from the likes of engadget –  usually the first to take a pop at Nokia’s hubris in pursuing alternatives to Android/Apple. The problem the N9 faces is that in editorials up and down the land there exists the question; why get excited about an abandoned platform sat on an orphaned handset. Fair question, the N9 must persuade on merit that it is a proposition with value. This blog takes no issue with that, what it does wish to raise to prominence is the false meme of disaster that has arisen from people who are too busy hyper-ventilating over an emotional calamity to engage brain and sieve facts.

Having grown bored with pointing out the same facts to the emotionally incontinent, over and over again, here is a FAQ:

Usually the cries of doom are vaguely referenced to some statement or press release from Nokia, or more specifically the ‘evil’ one himself. Usually this evidence doesn’t actually say what people think it says, and it certainly never justifies the apocalypse they think it does. The examples that follow are not necessarily the people described above, they just neatly encapsulate a few of the false assumptions going around.

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“Hate to be bringer of bad news, but as the title says, Elop says in interview on todays “Helsingin Sanomat” that N9 will be the last Meego phone even if its successful.”

If you read what the article actually says:

“In Elop’s words, there is no returning to MeeGo, even if the N9 turns out to be a hit.”

He is talking about platforms, not handsets. Yes, Nokia’s platform decision is made; WP7 will be the platform that Nokia invests in to attempt to become the third major mobile ecosystem. Regardless of how well the N9 is received this won’t change that decision, nor should it, but what it will affect is the frequency with which further Linux/QT devices are released.

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“The craziest thing though is that MeeGo itself isn’t important! The things that supposedly make MeeGo the best thing since sliced bread  are the same things that make the UI, UX, Applications and designs and performance platform-INDEPENDENT.

Oops! Another one referenced against that Elop interview in the Finnish paper.

So is Meego in fact irrelevant, or at least unimportant in the grand scheme of things? Yes and no. QT and the Swipe UI are indeed independent of Meego, and could indeed be applied to any mobile platform, but the important thing is that you do in fact need a platform from which to use these innovations. So why not S40, (accepting that Symbian is dead)? Well cross-platform is nice but the bulk of the revenue and visibility comes from smartphones, as they provide the halo effect by which the criteria of success and failure are weighed in public consciousness. Equally, Nokia is serious about future ‘disruptions’ by which it means keeping its hand in the smartphone development  arena. S40 is never going to be a high-margin smartphone OS, and the idea that Nokia would throw away its investment in the linux kernel is patently ridiculous.

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“Elop is committed to WP as their sole smartphone OS, but this does not exclude the release of other “disruptive” platforms.”

And evidenced against the patent license agreement:

Original Slashgear Article I linked to about Nokia-Apple licensing deal. the Nokia statement from the press release is at the bottom. talks about their plan to make wp their sole mobile smartphone OS and then offers up a truckload of caveats…

But if you read the statement it doesn’t say anything of the sort:

the expected plans and benefits of our strategic partnership with Microsoft to combine complementary assets and expertise to form a global mobile ecosystem and to adopt Windows Phone as our primary smartphone platform

the expected timing of the planned transition to Windows Phone as our primary smartphone platform and the introduction of mobile products based on that platform

Primary, not sole.

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“MeeGo and Symbian will have to go (although not entirely sure about Symbian). A new smartphone platform will emerge with the N9 UI (Qt). It will be low to mid end and a few more geeky devices.”

In response to the ‘leaked’ video of the first Nokia WP7 phone where Elop talks about which elements of the N9 will live on, notably QT, the UI, and the Industrial design, but no mention of Meego itself.

We do all recall that the switch from Meego to WP7 was a controversial decision, right? A decision that led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth, so is it any surprise that no mention is made of Meego with reference to the future at the staged launch of the companies first WP7 handset?

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“don’t come with that “meego supports only 3 platforms till 2014″ ********. 3 platforms in 3 years is actually more than enough. From a technical point of view there is nothing wrong with meego.”

On the subject of whether Elop might not actually be part of a grand conspiracy to bring down mobile linux.

The fact that Harmattan remains trapped on the ageing Omap3 SoC should tell us plenty about the truth behind elops discovery that Meego was not moving fast enough. These various ARM SoC’s are not generic, they have different capabilities that need to be addressed, particularly mobile settings where the demands of power conservation and multimedia pull in opposite directions.

Windows8 is going to have four different ARM SKU’s, so it is obviously not a trivial matter to have platform development keep pace with hardware evolution, and at least with WP7 Microsoft is paying for that platform adaptation.

The Nokia management and executive aim to make Nokia the third major ecosystem alongside IOS and Android, for failure to do so will see the company marginalised into either a niche platform provider or just another hardware OEM. If they thought Meego could provide this, in sufficient time, then they would have gone with it. They did not, and rather than give up they hunted around for another platform that could allow them to grow fast enough to become the third great mobile ecosystem. They picked WP7.

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None of this means that Meego is useless or pointless, it has excellent potential to hoover up niche users who aren’t persuaded by re-skinned WP7 offerings. It also provides Nokia an insurance policy against a future where a platform they don’t control either can’t or won’t provide the upgrades Nokia feels it needs to stay relevant.

If Samsung can develop Bada and market it alongside their Android products, why can Nokia not develop Linux/QT and market it alongside WP7 products? This question is especially pertinent when you consider that QT and swipe are complimentary technologies to Nokia platforms other than Linux or Symbian; namely S40.

Update – 27th June – Cryptic post from Quim Gill of Nokia/Harmattan fame:

Another approach would be to simply define MeeGo = Kernel mainline + Qt + WebKit, syncing app developers around the OpenGL, Qt and Web APIs – but this is not the reality today

However, look back at the four essential pieces above and keep in mind that Nokia is investing in all of them. Even if working on them is really fun, you may guess that Nokia is not paying the teams for the fun of it. It is sensible to expect more to come in a form or another.

Update – 29th June – Meego not a dead-end:

Mark Squires, PR manager for Nokia, explained: that the N9 “is the only Meego device this year.” In other words, Squires wouldn’t flat-out say that this would be the only Meego device, ever. Does that mean there could be more beyond 2011? I suspect we’ll have to see how this one sells first.

18 responses to “Meego/Harmattan – A willfully misunderstood platform.

  1. I really hope that Nokia can actually stay in the game! I have a mate who’s convinced that unless Nokia do something quick that his employers (CPW) are going to drop them completely within 6 months, and that internal memos believe that WP7 is doomed already…

    • i do too.

      i understand and accept that nokia believe meego wasn’t moving fast enough, but i do question whether WP7 will prove any more effective in achieving the stated aim.

      god knows I’ll never buy one!

      • actually meego dev. was pretty fast from 2008 onwards, if you look at what work they had to do, I’d day they did a brillant job. What happened before was a desaster.

      • hi there.

        looking through the meego 1.3 feature list i noticed stuff such as NFC pairing which harmattan already has…….. but meego won’t see until october at the earliest.

        perhaps there is a reason why nokia stuck with harmattan, as they could drive development faster than the meego governance would allow?

  2. I won’t either, unless it turns out that they are amazingly good hardware wise and Android stagnates a little – both of which look remote at best

  3. But current Nokia’s aren’t that exciting hardware wise…Galaxy S II is miles ahead hardware, and with Android and custom ROMS they are already at least a year behind…again…

    • agreed, but with the design the new polycarbonate chassis’s are right back at the top, especially when paired with high-res amoled CBD displays.

      on hardware, no, the N9 is hardly cutting edge tho the responsiveness of meego would argue that it doesn’t need to be. regardless, i would be surprised if the lead WP7 phones don’t show up with a dual-core.

      on software, personally speaking i am not that impressed with android, and while there is no arguing with success i have played with a number of android phones now and i still prefer my n900. WP7 is by all accounts pretty swish, and joe sixpack doesn’t really care what OS its running as long as its not considered backward by MTV.

  4. I must admit, this all confuses me.

    These things are quickly ceasing to be “phones” and becoming micro tablets, ie PC’s

    For all their attempts to make new Operating Systems, in the long term, there IS only one operating system thats going to win in 95% of the market, and thats windows.

    As “cool” as “apps” are, I’m not paying for ****ing angry birds, its a derivative catapult game of which there are thousands available for free on the internet on any device capable of flash.

    I expect my PC, laptop, netbook, tablet and micro tablet to look basicaly the same, I expect them to see each others drives as drives, and I expect nothing more than a drag/drop and double click to be required to move and run anything from any of them on any of them.

    Might take a decade, might take two, but its going one way, and one way only.
    I’m amazed the “720” still has so little announced PC functionality….

    • don’t think it will happen that way on mobile devices.

      WP7 will do well with nokia behind it, but will be lucky to hold more than 20% of the smartphone market in four years time.

  5. Its a long time away, but theres simply no reason my Phone memory card shouldnt show up as a shared drive like my laptop does.

    Realisticaly, the only two formats capable of offering that are windows and apple, and apple simply lacks the customer base to really do it, the market for £900 laptops is teeny compared to the one for £300 laptops.

    iMac £1000+
    iMacBook £900
    iPad £600
    iPhone £300?

    Comapre that with a Dell, £300, boring Laptop, £300, Tablet ? and nokia smart phone £200

    I could be wrong, and I doubt it will be quick, but thats the way its almost certain to go, and open always beats closed.

  6. The funny thing is I can completely comprehend elop’s strategy, but I couldn’t disagree more with it. Fact is with a good OS and good dev. tools nokia is still big enough to push ANY os, be it meego or wp7. The only difference is that meego won’t secure them the US market. So they’re essentially giving up full control over their own system for US market share. Fact is though that the us market is losing relevance fast. Nokia is strong in china, india etc. and there is should absolutely preserve its brand and not mix it with windows, that is critical.

    • it is hoped that this relates to the closure of nokia’s e-shop for direct selling, which has happened in quite a few places as contract subsidy makes direct selling unattractive.

      again; fingers crossed…….. :)

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