Tough times ahead for MeeGo - Mobile World Live

Tough times ahead for MeeGo

28 APR 2011

In the last three months, the fledgling MeeGo platform has certainly seen some ups and downs. While development has continued apace, and several early-stage tablets and netbooks using the OS have seen the limelight, the February 2011 decision by Nokia to largely abandon the platform in favour of Windows Phone overshadowed all of the positives.

The news last week that LG is looking at MeeGo as an option for smartphones is certainly welcome for the ecosystem, in that there is now a global top-three handset manufacturer on-board again – albeit one with less commitment than Nokia had previously. And while Intel is doing what it should by backing multiple device OS’ – ultimately it is a silicon vendor, and therefore needs to be agnostic to maximise its volumes – its engagement with MeeGo does not appear to have dwindled (too) much in recent months.

The argument that MeeGo has already lost the race, what with Android aiming to do the same thing and gaining ground rapidly, is perhaps unfair. It is only a handful of years ago that iOS and Android were unheard of in the smartphone space, and the biggest challenger to Symbian’s dominance was Windows Mobile – but things change. With MeeGo also targeting tablets and netbooks, as well as other emerging device categories where market dominance has not been established, there is certainly still the potential for the platform to carve-out its own niche.

But there are some issues which make MeeGo’s future look a little less certain. Firstly, according to the MeeGo website, the platform is intended to address “netbooks/entry-level desktops, handheld computing and communications devices, in-vehicle infotainment devices, connected TVs, and media phones.” While it is true that there are some commonalities with these devices – the site highlights “common user requirements in communications, application, and internet services in a portable or small form factor” – there are also a number of differences, especially in terms of user interface and use cases.

The problem is that in trying to be all things to all men, there is a danger that MeeGo is being overstretched – especially in its early years. Rather than attempting to support multiple scenarios from the outset, the better option may be to take a more defined approach to deliver the best possible user experience – a tightly integrated “flagship” device or two which can really demonstrate the potential of the platform.

Clearly smartphones make the most sense as an initial focus, even if this market is the most competitive – and most established. The numbers of smartphones sold is already high, and penetration is only going to get higher in the near term, meaning it is easier to generate significant shipment numbers than in other, more niche, product categories. And once the device volumes are on the up, the developer community is more likely to embrace MeeGo, creating a much healthier ecosystem for the platform.

Secondly, it is not clear if an “open” development model is always the best option, certainly in the mobile space. While Google’s develop first, open (sometime) later approach for Android has been criticised, at least this company has been able to bring new versions of the platform to market in a timely manner. In contrast, Symbian OS under Symbian Foundation was far from a success, unlike when its development was under the control of a single commercial entity, in the form of Symbian Limited. And the smartphone that changed the market, Apple’s iPhone, could not be much more “closed” – and yet it still maintains a leading position in the market.

While in many ways the idea of an open platform is appealing, sometimes what a platform needs – especially in its early years – is a strong, guiding hand. While Nokia would undoubtedly have been able to play this role, with the engineering resources to ensure that MeeGo was heading in the direction it wanted, this still did not lead to a platform it felt was capable of powering high-end, mass market devices. Whether LG can, or wants, to take on this role is open to question.

Steve Costello

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members

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