By Chris Buerger
First off, let me say that it is not fair to directly compare the two conferences to draw a conclusion about the comparative future of Android and MeeGo. Both software stacks are at a different place in their respective life cycles, and important maturity indicators such as overall ecosystem support (silicon providers, device manufacturers, application developer community etc…) as well as software quality/complexity are simply at a different stage for each technology.
However, who is interested in fairness? There is a perception in the marketplace that Android and MeeGo are competitive technologies in a proliferation war that includes other heavyweights such as Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and HP. If industry analysts put all of these software stacks on a single Mobile OS market share chart, they’ve got to be competitive, right?
Not quite. One important reason Android got to where it is today is that its first mass-market device, the HTC G1, sold millions of units across the globe, thus delivering a very tangible proof point to rally a worldwide ecosystem to participate in the development of Android. MeeGo’s proliferation, partly because of the rather wide device scope the software stack is attempting to cover, is following a different path. Clearly, there is no single, mass-volume MeeGo device today to rally an ecosystem around – however, there are a number of MeeGo based devices including netbooks, automotive IVI systems and set-top boxes that are either shipping or are in an advanced realization stage. In addition, I expect that the hopefully soon-to-be launched Nokia N9 MeeGo smart phone (plus anticipated developer version) will be able to at least meet a minimum set of expectations to provide a solid MeeGo smart phone developer platform and keep a basic level of ARM support alive. Whether it will sell millions of units will be influenced by operator acceptance and Nokia’s investment into marketing the phone.
So, key differences between Android and MeeGo are marked by their approach to the market. Android started focusing on a specific SKU to launch an ecosystem for a device type – a strategy that has worked so well in smart phones that it is being mirrored for tablets. Whereas MeeGo is attempting to grow from a broad base of open source projects, reflecting the cross device design philosophy of the stack, core cross platform-oriented components such as QT and MeeGo’s association with the Linux Foundation. Of course, this approach results in a reduction of risk associated with launching an individual device SKU, however, it also decreases release delivery/innovation speed from the MeeGo development program.
These points were clearly reflected in the two conferences. Who can argue with 310 Android devices being used as success showcases at an innovation-driven Google I/O conference, where lots of hardware was given away to thousands of attendees who considered themselves lucky to get a much-sought after (expensive) ticket to the event. Google I/O even had World Cup style ‘viewing parties’ across the globe. Then, consider the MeeGo conference, where walk-on registration to the free event was easily possible, and the estimated 300 attendees managed to modestly fill 70 percent of the ballroom for the key note. So, we are not talking apples to apples, nor should we. There is simply no comparison between Google taking a bold shot at Microsoft Windows with its Android accessory program, plus introducing attention-grabbing programs such as monthly rentals for Chromebooks vs. reminiscing about the rise of Linux as an operating system and bravely trying to associate that success story with the future potential of MeeGo. It’s also wrong to compare highly choreographed – dare I say ‘Microsoft/SUN/Qualcomm Dev conference’ like – sessions at I/O to the broad range of often free-flowing community-based presentations of the MeeGo event.
Here is another telling difference. The single most common response to questions that I noticed at Google I/O was a scripted ‘we are not ready to announce anything at this time’ to generally forward-looking enquiries. Compare that with the open attitude and discussions at MeeGo sessions along the lines of: ‘well, if you really want to make it work this way, show your code and the community will review it and debate its merits on public IRC.’
Simplistically, a key difference therefore is between being ‘led’ (Android) and being encouraged to ‘lead’ (MeeGo). Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t many areas of innovation potential within Android. There most definitely is significant room for innovation from software companies such as Wind River delivering technologies like the Wind River Platform for Android and our FAST for Android software quality tool. Nevertheless, the comparison is useful since it highlights that, while the MeeGo development community appears to have survived the heart attack of Nokia changing its OS direction, for many of us active in MeeGo there was an expectation that there would be at least an attempt to answer the perennial ‘Quo Vadis, MeeGo’ question that has been plagued this particular Linux distribution from Day 1.
Alas, a strong leadership message was not discernible at the MeeGo conference – simply stating that ‘MeeGo is in the first five minutes of a marathon race’ after more than a year of development and three releases cannot be enough. Downplaying the importance of the Technical Steering Group to be just an administrative function isn’t ideal either.
So, what does this mean for Wind River? Wind River will continue to provide both Android and MeeGo technology innovation and leadership based on our global engineering centers and our focus on providing tailored, compliant, highly reliable Android and MeeGo software products. Our software is used in a diverse set of device types used in automotive (e.g. our highly successful MeeGo-based Platform for Infotainment), mobile and other embedded systems for both leading ARM and IA platforms. We will also continue to focus on providing a deep understanding of the challenges of using open source licenses to develop commercial products.
Next week, I look forward to participating at the Uplinq event in San Diego again. By many, this show is regarded as the single most important mobile event organized by a leading ARM licensee. The Wind River team will be demonstrating our latest technology for Android, and yes, MeeGo, so come on by for a conversation about both technologies and our device realization solutions at booth #314.