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News

The open source mobile ‘super-platform’ cometh

As you may be aware by now Nokia and Intel have announced that they will merge their respective Maemo and Moblin software platforms to create a combined Linux-based operating system targeting a new broader range of fixed and mobile devices. But is MeeGo, just an Android me too?

MeeGo_logo_gmAs you may be aware by now Nokia and Intel have announced that they will merge their respective Maemo and Moblin software platforms to create a combined Linux-based operating system targeting a new broader range of fixed and mobile devices. MeeGo is aimed at creating a unified Linux-based environment that will run across smartphones,
mobile computers, netbooks, tablets, digital TVs and in-vehicle infotainment systems.

The new platform will be a fully Open Source Linux variant hosted by the Linux Foundation at MeeGo.com. The first code release is scheduled for the second quarter of 2010, with MeeGo-powered devices scheduled for later in the year.

At the time of launch, Nokia was the only company to confirm plans to ship devices featuring the new platform. However, Korean phone manufacturers LG have since announced that their GW990 smartphone will use the new platform. An Intel spokesperson has also confirmed that announcements of further third party devices and mobile operator partnerships are scheduled over the coming months.

Having been two of the most notable absentees from Google’s popular Android mobile platform, Nokia and Intel are keen to position the move as a new open cross-industry initiative, rather than the new pairing ‘going it alone together’. According to Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, “MeeGo will create an ecosystem that is second to none, drawing in players from different industries…building on the experience and expertise of Nokia, Intel and all those who will join us.” However, the fate of the new platform will be almost entirely dependent on who does join this new initiative.

PaulOtellini_and_Olli-PekkaKallasvuo

For both companies, Meego is a clear attempt to capture a share of the App Store market, currently dominated by Apple’s iPhone and, which Android is also now seeking to capture. The aim, in all cases, is not to create direct revenue for the platform, but to build a community of third party application and widget developers. This delivers low cost innovation on the platform, makes it more attractive to the consumer and enables Apple, Android or MeeGo and their commercial partners to sell higher volumes of related hardware and mobile network services.

MeeGo is seeking to raise its attractiveness to third party app developers by creating a single unified platform that provides access to a far broader range of devices, and therefore a larger market, than the competition. Key to this strategy is Nokia’s Qt application development environment, which it acquired along with Trolltech in 2008.

Qt allows third party developers to write applications once and then deploy them across a broad range of hardware. If Nokia and Intel manage to rally enough device manufacturers around MeeGo, the inclusion of Qt technology will make it a very attractive and cost effective platform for app developers, allowing them to reach a larger, broader market without needing to rewrite or recompile code.

Nokia has confirmed that MeeGo will not replace the company’s use of the Symbian smartphone platform, which also completed its transition to open source in early February. This has lead some analysts to criticise the company’s muddled software platform strategy. However, the use of Qt will allow developers to build one application to run on both platforms. Complementing this strategy, Nokia’s Ovi Store will also provide partners with a unified route-to-market for all Nokia Platforms.

With Intel planning a renewed push into the mobile device market, the company’s commitment to MeeGo is almost certainly motivated by a desire to get its low-powered Atom chipsets incorporated into more Nokia handsets. Despite having lost ground to Apple and BlackBerry in the high-end smartphone market, Nokia remains by far the worlds largest phone manufacturer with around 40% of the market.

However, Intel’s obvious intentions towards the mobile market may prove one of the largest barriers to MeeGo’s more widespread adoption. The competing ARM A9 chipset design currently dominates the high-end phone and mobile device space. ARM’s co-operation is therefore vital to broadening MeeGo’s appeal to device manufacturers beyond Nokia.

Although the Meego website claims that the platform will support the ARM architecture, ARM has questionable incentive to co-operate on developing interoperability with a platform that forms a core part of Intel’s strategy to take away their market share in the mobile space.

MeeGo’s launch as an independent Open Source project hosted with the Linux Foundation may help to allay fears of the platform being used as an Open Source pawn by Nokia and Intel. The involvement of the Linux Foundation, may also prove a wise and important political move for MeeGo, as Google’s competing Android platform appears to have chosen to fork from the main Linux kernel.

What are your thoughts on Intel and Nokia’s new collaboration? Let us know in the comments thread below…

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