Gone but not forgotten: a brief history of failed smartphone operating systems
To fully understand MeeGo’s history, one needs to go years back and look at both Nokia and Intel’s past mobile ventures. First there was Moblin (short for mobile Linux), Intel’s fork of the open-source OS designed primarily around their own Atom processors, which were used in a large number of netbooks at the time. Then there was also Maemo, Nokia’s homegrown Linux distro, which primarily powered the company’s own PDAs. At MWC 2010, the two announced the merger of their respective projects into a new one, named MeeGo, which was to be a one-size-fits-all solution for device manufacturers. Besides smartphones, planned devices running the OS included tablets, TVs, and netbooks. Only two phones running the OS, the Nokia N950 and N9, were ever released, and they didn’t even technically run MeeGo at all, but rather a version of Maemo with the MeeGo UX on top of it. Both of them also had limited releases – the N950 was a developer phone with only about 5000 devices manufactured, while the N9 was never released stateside due to Nokia’s new business plans with Microsoft. Intel promptly abandoned the project, which led to a confusing mess of forks and offshoots, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
What went wrong
even if it weren’t for the OS’ bad timing, it’s debatable whether it could have ever stood up to its competitorsBoy, where do we start – firstly, there’s the fact that a complete version of the OS was only ever released on an obscure German tablet called WeTab, which also ran a custom user interface on top. The reason for this is that, despite being one of the two main creators of MeeGo, Nokia shipped the N9 and N950 with Maemo 6, work on which had already been underway before the Intel deal took place. The N9 was announced four months after Nokia’s exclusivity deal with Microsoft, and was described by CEO Stephen Elop as the first and last MeeGo device from the company. Elop, an ex-Microsoft executive, was the main driving force behind the platform’s downfall, calling it a “burning platform” in a famous internal memo, and successfully pushing for Nokia’s adoption of Windows Phone (which, coincidentally, is the next platform on our list). However, even if it weren’t for the OS’ bad timing, it’s debatable whether it could have ever stood up to its competitors, which had had a head start of a few years each and were already massively popular with users.
Mer, originally an open-source re-implementation of Maemo, switched its focus to MeeGo when it was first released, eventually becoming the de facto successor following its abandonment by Nokia and Intel. Mer was then used as a base for two other operating systems, the more famous one being Sailfish OS, which powered a few low-cost phones and tablets, but now can also be considered a market failure. Another OS, Tizen, was announced as a continuation of the MeeGo efforts, but in reality is mostly based on Samsung’s deprecated Bada. Just like Bada, Tizen is used primarily in entry-level smartphones, but has also recently expanded into smart TV sets and wearables.
Jump to: WebOS | MeeGo | Windows Phone | BlackBerry 10 | Firefox OS
- Stephen Elop: “Nokia, our platform is burning” - Victor H. / Phone Arena: The full text of the “Burning platform” memo, along with a helpful summary of its contents.
- The story of Nokia MeeGo - Sampsa Kurri / Muropaketti: A much more in-depth look into the platform’s history, detailing many problems encountered during its development.