The story of Nokia MeeGo (and Symbian)

Last weekend I've read a long but very original "Story of Nokia Meego" by the Finnish journalist Sampsa Kurri. Although it has got nothing to do with PureView directly, it has to do with Nokia MeeGo and in some repects also with Symbian.

Since many people have expressed their feeling that the Nokia 808 PureView on the Nokia Belle (Symbian) platform is the real thing as far as Pureview is concerned, and Nokia should never have left Symbian or MeeGo at all, I think pointing you towards this article will shed some interesting light on the matter.

You will find the extensive article on Taskumuro.com and it tells the history of the development of MeeGo and the way it all fell apart. It might be a bit technical at some points, but I'm sure you will get the general idea (like I did).

Below you will find a very summary by me, I can only advise you to read the article in full when this part of Nokia history interests you. The story is based on interviews with ten, mostly anonymous sources, current or former Nokia employees.

Maemo
It started in 2005 with a group working on Maemo: a few dozen employees that concentrated on software development, working with small resources, using many subcontracters, choosing for the cheapest components.

Soon, bigger teams led to more bureacracy and internal competition between the old Symbian an new Maemo team. The best device to come from this stage is the N900 from 2009, running on Maemo 5.

Qt
Nokia started working on Maemo 6 already in 2008, but in the same year Nokia bought Qt. Both Symbian and Maemo teams created different developing tools to work with Qt and both soon faced many problems. Working in different ways, the teams hardly communicated and had actually not a line of code in common.

MeeGo
In 2010 Nokia and Intel announced a new joint project, MeeGo. Nokia decided to continue developing Maemo 6 and to make it as compatible with MeeGo as possible. The code named "Harmattan" was supposed to act as a bridge between Maemo and MeeGo.

The original concept was very simple, but it became much more complicated fast, up to a point where the whole concept was dropped.

Development for a new concept began late 2009: "Simple Dali", a basic interface with a focus on multitasking. The largely simplified UI should be ready in summer 2010, but soon Nokia lost belief that it could be competitive.

In the August of 2010 the third UI for Harmattan began, and finally everybody was convinced this was the best platform. It was the start of what we now know as the Nokia N9.

LTE
By now Nokia started to realise it had been neglecting the American market and was losing it to Apple and Google. By the beginning of 2010, it also began to be clear that the North American market was going to be dominated by LTE networks and LTE enabled phones. Choosing for Intel however, meant Nokia could not support LTE networks.

So focussing on Intel and Meego would not get Nokia into the American market. Also, because of lack of LTE support, there were no other device manufacturers, operators, semiconductor manufacturers, software and application developers, that would take MeeGo into large scale use. Nokia had invested years what had become a dead-end road.

Stephen Elop
Elop started in 2010 with the strong belief Nokia has to be able to compete in the American market to be successful globally, like Apple and Google have shown. He had a team - of outsiders also - analyze Nokia's smartphone future, and the combination of Symbian and MeeGo proved not sufficient for a succesful long term strategy.

Nokia could still build new smartphones around the N9 chipset, but an ecosystem would have had to be built around it without LTE support and the support from North American operators. That was no competition for Apple and Google, that already had surpassed Symbian. Nokia had run out of time. The choice to join forces with Microsoft was a choice to join a new ecosystem and stop developping one of its own.

Final words
Almost all the former and current Nokia employees interviewd were proud of what they achieved with the N9. But the conclusion is merciless, and I will quote a few poignant lines from the end of the article:

The organization was led from an ivory tower. Developers had no say in, or no knowledge about the decisions and changes that took place in the background. The technology was developed in various teams, which did not communicate with each other. 

Nokia developed Harmattan and MeeGo alongside with Symbian. Resources went to a huge waste, when both platforms were developing their own Qt-based user interface design tools. Applications were being simultaneously developed on top of unfinished development tools.

There was no clear vision of Harmattan. Different product managers had totally different opinions of what it should be. There was no single person making the product level decisions in the projects. Many subcontractors and whole teams were hired without even knowing what they could do. The organization quickly grew enormous.

MeeGo became the new Symbian in the beginning of 2009. All available resources and personnel were given to MeeGo. The new employees might not have had any particular task and it took them a long time to find a proper place in the organization. The organization was also filling more and more executive positions, which didn’t help getting the projects forward or completed. Choosing Intel as a partner in developing the OS and providing hardware was most probably a grave mistake.

I won't write my own conclusions after all this - it's enough as it is. The original article offers even far more detailed information, and you can find a commenting article on The Register as well.

As I've said, it has got nothing to do with PureView. But it might have answered some questions you have about the decisions Nokia has made concerning Symbian and MeeGo. I hope this summary was worth your - and my - time.