Nokia's N9 Smartphone Is First With MeeGo

Nokia's new N9 smartphone runs MeeGo, the company's high-end operating system. But Nokia is also transitioning to Windows Phone, putting MeeGo's future in doubt.

Nokia is betting big on Windows Phone as the smartphone platform that will revive its fortunes. But until those devices begin hitting the market (with the first likely appearing at the end of this year), the Finnish phone-maker finds itself saddled with two mobile operating systems it'll eventually drop from its lineup: Symbian and MeeGo.

The bell might be tolling for MeeGo, but that hasn't stopped Nokia from introducing a sleek touch-screen smartphone, the N9, that showcases what the operating system can do when paired to some higher-end hardware-and irony of ironies, early media reviews of the device seem uniformly positive.

One of the N9's main selling features is the ability to swipe your finger across the 3.9-inch AMOLED screen in order to navigate away from an app. This eliminates the need for a dedicated Home button, which in turn allows the N9 to preserve its sleek and streamlined look (being engineered from a single piece of polycarbonate also helps). Nokia has curved the screen's edges in order to facilitate this gesture control.

The home screen offers three different views: events, which catalogs everything your contacts are doing at that moment (via a live feed composed of Tweets and notifications); a grid-like screen of apps; and a screen displaying open apps in miniature.

The N9 also features NFC (near-field communication), allowing the user to share photos and other information by tapping another NFC-enabled device, and an 8-megapixel camera. Nokia plans to release the device at an unspecified point later in 2011, in 16GB and 64GB versions.

At one point, MeeGo represented Nokia's hopes for an in-house competitor capable of taking on both Apple's iOS and Google Android. According to a June story in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, though, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop apparently decided that the platform's slow pace of development-three MeeGo models were apparently expected on the market before 2014-hobbled its ability to serve as the company's savior.

Nonetheless, Elop apparently seems willing to use MeeGo, however crippled as a viable platform by the Windows Phone switchover, to demonstrate Nokia's ability to produce a high-end, unique smartphone. "Earlier this year, we outlined a comprehensive strategy to change our course," he wrote in a June 20 statement. "Innovation is at the heart of our strategy, and today we took important steps to demonstrate a new pace of innovation at Nokia. It's the beginning of a new era for Nokia."

And Nokia certainly faces some challenges. The rise of Google Android has eaten into its previously ironclad lock on the lower-end phone market, and analysts took a dim view of Elop's decision to drop everything in favor of Windows Phone.

"We would continue to avoid the stock as Symbian smartphone sales are falling off faster than expected and we are skeptical that new Windows Phone (WP) models will be able to replace lost profits," Stephen Patel, an analyst with Gleacher & Co., wrote in a May 31 research note. "Our checks suggest mixed carrier support for Nokia's transition to WP."

That being said, some analysts are more upbeat about Nokia's longer-term prospects. Research firm IDC recently estimated that Windows Phone, boosted by Nokia's worldwide reach, will overcome both Apple's iOS and RIM's BlackBerry franchise to become, by 2015, the second-ranked smartphone platform after Google Android.

Whether that optimistic prediction comes to pass, it's clear that Nokia faces a vicious battle for survival against a host of very capable competitors-and that it'll fight that battle with Windows Phone, good reviews for MeeGo or no.