Openness without fragmentation?
I spent most of this morning in a room atop Dublin's Aviva Stadium with two-hundred odd developers, members of the press and employees of Nokia and Intel. The presenters (including Doug Fisher, chairman of the Linux Foundation and Intel VP) did their best to convince us that the MeeGo OS has a fighting chance against Android and iOS. This wasn't an easy task, as MeeGo currently has virtually no commercial presence. They certainly don't have a well-stocked app store.
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Which is an issue. No mobile operating system can succeed in this market without a well-developed application ecosystem. And you can't have apps without developers. But how do you convince talented people to develop for your unproven OS when there are viable, proven platforms out there?
By being open. Scary open.
At least, that's what Nokia and Intel are hoping. Every stage of the platform's development has been open to the community. They have mailing lists and forums where users can stay updated on the latest developments and even contribute toward MeeGo's evolution. Android is open source too, but Google still felt the need to keep things under wraps until they had the kinks ironed out and things mostly ready for launch.
Alberto Torres, EVP of MeeGo, described MeeGo's gameplan as Openness+Differentiation. Everything should be transparent, but it is a given that manufacturers and developers will want ways to separate their products from the pack. Android device-makers tend to do this with custom UIs like Sense that increase fragmentation and make regular updating a pain in the ass.
MeeGo will avoid this. APIs will be standard across all MeeGo devices. An app that works on your Nokia phone will work on your HTC phone. When a new update hits, you won't have to wait two months for it to work on your phone.
"We can have an unfragmented platform with consistent APIs, and yet there is an opportunity to create things that are unique." said Torres.
You can't please customers without pleasing developers, which is why so much of this Summit has been focused on courting them. Dominique Le Foll, from Amino Communications, was sent out to talk about developing a smart TV platform based on MeeGo. It took them only six months, from start to finish.
"You can't afford to launch a new product with MeeGo 1.1 when 2.3 is the standard. MeeGo's focus on eliminating fragmentation means that should not be an issue", Le Foll said, making a light jab at Android's current struggle.
Consistency is the name of the game with MeeGo. Apps should work across devices, just as MeeGo works across chip architectures. At one point, an executive from AMD even walked up to the stage to tout his companies dedication to MeeGo. He joked that this was the first time he'd been that close to an Intel executive without lawyers between them.
Openness isn't everything, Apple's success is proof of that. But there are a ton of users and developers who are very dedicated to open source computing. Right now, those folks are hovering around Android. But that may not last long. MeeGo is making every move possible to draw them in.
Fragmentation is a major problem for Android, and it will only get worse as connected devices spread to encompass vehicles, televisions and more. 'Continuous computing' is all about reducing the barrier between User and Device. If your multitude of Android devices can't communicate well or share apps because they all use different versions of the OS, immersion is broken. That won't be an issue with MeeGo.
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Of course, that level of connection is still a few years ahead of us. The current mobile marketplace rewards both closed systems like iOS, and fragmented systems like Android. MeeGo will need to succeed in this world first if they want to have a chance of surviving to see the future.