Nokia picks MeeGo over Symbian for iPhone rival

Finnish handset giant opts for the Linux-based OS for its flagship N-series phones, reflecting how mobile phones are becoming general-purpose computer.

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Stephen Shankland
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Nokia's N8 will be the last of the N-series phones to use the Symbian OS. Replacing it will be the Linux-based MeeGo software from Nokia and Intel.
Nokia's N8 will be the last of the N-series phones to use the Symbian OS. Replacing it will be the Linux-based MeeGo software from Nokia and Intel. CBS Interactive

Despite years of investment in its Symbian operating system, Nokia has picked the Linux-based MeeGo instead to go head to head with Apple's iPhone and other higher-end smartphones.

The Nokia N8 will be the last of the flagship N-series smartphones to use Symbian, Nokia told CNET Australia, and confirmed the move in a Reuters interview. "Going forward, N-series devices will be based on MeeGo," a Nokia spokesman said, though it will continue to offer Symbian lower down the product line.

Years ago, Nokia was the dominant phone maker, but it's struggled to reclaim its past glory. The N-series change indicates the company's bets on Symbian--including Nokia's acquisition of full Symbian control from other partners and its subsequent release as open-source software--weren't sufficient to make the operating system a top-end competitor.

In contrast, the iPhone 4 appears to be increasing Apple's considerable clout in the mobile market, and application developers' products also run on the iPod Touch and iPad devices that also use the iOS operating system. At the same time, Google has been making steady gains with its Android operating system, with 160,000 new Android phones activated daily, and various partners plan Android-baesd tablets and other devices.

Android and iOS, while geared for mobile devices, stem more from a personal computer lineage compared with Symbian's mobile roots. That change arguably befits the new era of mobile devices, which resemble small general-purpose computers more than single-purpose phones. Customers use the phone not just for calls and text messaging, but also for e-mail, Web browsing, and games. They add new software picked from application stores rather than using a limited list of applications supplied with the phone.

MeeGo falls into this general-purpose category as well. MeeGo is an operating system born earlier in 2010 of the combination of two other Linux efforts, Nokia's Maemo effort and Intel's Moblin.

Update 7:50 a.m. PDT: In a statement, the Symbian Foundation said it will continue supporting the operating system and that demand remains high.

"Symbian will be working with Nokia to deliver the operating system for all its upcoming Xseries, Cseries and Eseries smartphones. The move to evolve these series demonstrates the global demand for quality smartphones, but at an affordable price. This appetite for smartphones based on the Symbian platform remains undoubtedly high. In the first quarter, 260,000 smartphones containing Symbian's software were sold each day. We look forward to continuing to meet this level of demand, while delivering exceptional quality, to such a broad global audience moving forward. We will also be continuing to provide the maximum level of service to all of the device manufacturers who have chosen Symbian for their vast variety of products."