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Nokia reaches moment of truth as MeeGo VP resigns

by Scott Bicheno on 6 October 2010, 10:56

Tags: Nokia (NYSE:NOK)

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Decision time

The default journalistic setting when a senior exec unexpectedly quits a company is to cry ‘crisis' and extrapolate the move to the ultimate downfall of the whole company and, possibly, the end of the world as we know it. But sometimes it's for the best.

When Nokia's head of smartphones - Anssi Vanjoki - quit following the appointment of Stephen Elop as new CEO, we remarked that his claim to the CEO position was pretty weak given the performance of Nokia's smartphone division in recent years. For that reason we think it was for the best that he decided to clear off.

Now it emerges that - Ari Jaaksi - the VP of Nokia's high-end smartphone OS efforts - otherwise known as MeeGo - has also called it a day, as conveyed to the Finnish Talous Sanomat. Once more, considering the slow progress of MeeGo and Maemo before it, we think Jaaksi has done Nokia a favour - assuming the decision was his own.

It's probably no coincidence that Nokia grabbed Peter Skillman from Palm/HP last month to head up the MeeGo user experience and services operation. Handsets like the Palm Pre are considered to have been relative failures in spite of the hardware and software being good, so Nokia has someone with the proven ability to design a good high-end smartphone, of which the software - especially the UI - is arguably the most important component.

But this move has also revitalised speculation that Nokia might look abroad for a high-end smartphone OS, at least while MeeGo remains a work in progress. Intel confirmed to Forbes yesterday that we won't be seeing any MeeGo devices until next year, and we would guess that means MWC in February, at the earliest.

That would be fine; if something is launched at MWC that seriously measures up to what's already out there then the MeeGo era can begin in earnest and all talk about other OSs will disappear. But what if it doesn't? As we've covered extensively there's only so long Nokia can continue to beat the Symbian dead horse, so is there an argument for dabbling in an established OS - at least in the short term?

Nokia's board has apparently already given Elop the green light to look into other OSs if he sees fit, and TechCrunch recently reported that he has been chatting to Google CEO Eric Schmidt about using Android.

While Nokia's long-term strategy will remain to develop MeeGo - Intel might have something to say if that stops being the case - it needs to be staying at least partially relevant in the high-end smartphone space until while that fruit ripens.

Android has already overtaken Apple's iOS and RIM's BlackBerry OS in the States and is the only other OS, barring Microsoft's unproven WP7, that is available to Nokia. One possible obstacle could be the general trend towards suing Android for patent infringements, with Google formally responding to the Oracle suit this week.

But the biggest problem Nokia is going to have if it embarks on this course of action is also one of the biggest affecting the Symjbian-based N8, which has just gone on sale. Everyone knows MeeGo is where Nokia is headed, so why should we buy a high-end smartphone from Nokia until that objective is achieved?

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