Intel's MeeGo is a no-go for phones

Intel's and Nokia's MeeGo software will likely be relegated to an obscure role as a development platform, following the Nokia-Microsoft announcement yesterday.

Intel's MeeGo software seems destined for obscurity, in the wake of the Nokia-Microsoft agreement announced yesterday.

Why do I say that? Intel made a splash at the Consumer Electronics Show last year by flourishing an LG phone with an operating system that would later be called, under joint ownership of Intel and Nokia, MeeGo. LG's phone was due in the second half of last year--according to this video taken at the 2010 CES. But it has yet to appear.

That's not in the least bit surprising. Why would LG build a phone with software that was being developed by a competitor (Nokia)? A high-ranking Intel executive confirmed this sticky situation to me last year in a meeting.

Needless to say, a MeeGo phone from Nokia is increasingly unlikely now.

"This is a Nokia decision. Yes, we're disappointed with it," said an Intel spokeswoman yesterday, reacting to the Nokia-Microsoft announcement. "But we still believe there's a smartphone component to [MeeGo]. And we're talking to other partners. But it's also Netbooks, tablets, set-top boxes, automotive systems. So, it's a lot more than just the phone element," she said.

That statement notwithstanding, there' a quick moral to this story. MeeGo is not an operating system for mass-market consumer devices, no matter how strenuously Intel would tell you otherwise.

I had a brief debate at the Consumer Electronics Show last month with Intel marketing chief Tom Kilroy about this. He put up a good defense. But he didn't change my mind. And, quite obviously, Intel has not impressed Nokia.

So, what is MeeGo and why does Intel continue to hold on to it with a vise grip? MeeGo is what is called a reference platform. It's a way for potential customers to try out Intel chips on an open source platform with full support from the chipmaker.

"That's what Intel is known for. Building a lot of reference designs to show the industry what is possible. With MeeGo, they needed to get out there and demonstrate that their platform was viable," said Richard Shim, an analyst with market researcher DisplaySearch. "That it could sustain and help nurture a robust mobile experience. They wouldn't have objected if it had taken off as a full-fledged platform, but it wasn't being taken up (by device makers) very rapidly. It definitely took a hit with the Nokia Microsoft announcement," he said.

What else is MeeGo? It's an operating system for the so-called embedded market, such as in-car devices and industrial equipment, where it is doing well, according to Kilroy.

So, MeeGo will be sticking around but don't expect to pick up a consumer device at your local electronics retailer running the software. Friday's announcement made that a moral certainty.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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