Do Windows Phone 7 and MeeGo change the mobile game?

Just when it looked like an iPhone-Android-BlackBerry troika was shaping up, Microsoft and Nokia each tries one last shot

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What's hardly mentioned is the ability to run apps, an iconic capability of the iPhone that every other smartphone vendor has copied. WinPhone will run apps and tap into the Windows Mobile Marketplace, though it's unclear whether old WinMo apps will be WinPhone-compatible. It's just that Microsoft is trying to not let Windows Phone 7 look like yet another iPhone clone.

Still, at first glance, Microsoft appears to have something new on the table. Would I wait on getting an iPhone, Android smartphone, or Palm Pre because of Windows Phone 7? No. Every so-called iPhone-killer has revealed significant flaws at actual product release, and I can't imagine that Microsoft would be any different.

But I can easily see that in 2011 WinPhone might a real force within the smartphone market, threatening the innovative but low-traction Palm WebOS most, but also Google's Android OS. WinPhone appeals to the same 20-something crowd as those two operating systems, but has business credibility as well thanks to its Office and Outlook support and legacy of enterprise-class manageability and security. Neither WebOS nor Android can be used in any serious business context due to poor security and management features.

And WinPhone could emerge as a compelling alternative to the iPhone, given its 20-something hook. In the business context, WinPhone likely will be more enterprise-class in its manageability and security -- but I wonder if the 20-something UI of WinPhone will counteract its attractiveness to older business users and relegate WinPhone to a Zunish niche.

MeeGo: Should anyone care?
Nokia has been sleepwalking for years when it comes to smartphones. Sure, Nokia is the largest cell phone vendor in the world, but its phones aren't that smart. They're roughly equivalent to RIM's BlackBerry, with a clunky Windows 3.1-style UI, limited Web capabilities, few apps, and not much to offer for music, video, or gaming aficionados. And for business users, Nokia's manageability and security capabilities are weak.

Last year, Nokia announced it was relegating its Symbian OS to lower-end "feature phones," mobiles that offer one or two smart capabilities in a proprietary, awkward package. You don't see these devices show up at all in app store market share or Web usage statistics. At best their owners use them as cheap MP3 players when they're not talking or texting, and convince themselves that the touchscreen or YouTube player makes them "smart."

A new operating system called Maemo, to be released on Nokia smartphones in the next few years, was to take the Symbian OS's place as Nokia's platform for entering the real smartphone market. An open source Linux-based platform, Maemo is very much like desktop Linux in that it uses common Linux frameworks such as the Linux kernel, Debian, and Gnome, with drivers for various Nokia devices (a series of Nokia "Internet tablets" that debuted in 2005). That was Nokia's slow-motion strategy in 2009.

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