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An Operating System to Run It All

Intel’s MeeGo will let apps span tablets, phones, and TVs.

Apple and Google will soon have more than just each other to worry about in the race to provide the software for smart phones and tablets. Later this month, Intel will announce that its MeeGo operating system is ready to run devices including touch screen tablets and phones. MeeGo is a Linux-based, open source project created by merging Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo operating system projects early this year.

New contender:Meego will start appearing on phones in early 2011. This image shows the “home” screen.

Devices running MeeGo are likely to start appearing in early 2011. Netbooks are expected to appear first, then tablets and phones. MeeGo is different from Apple’s iOS platform for the iPhone, iPod and iPad or Google’s Android operating system, says Intel’s head of open source strategy, Ram Peddibhotla, because it is intended to seamlessly link multiple devices. “MeeGo is ground-up designed and targeted at multiple devices–netbooks, phones, and TV devices,” he says, describing a world in which a consumer could own multiple devices running the new operating system. “This allows these devices to work together more simply,” he says. “For example, with a flick of your finger, transferring a movie or any other content onto another device.”

Intel showed off this kind of functionality on some MeeGo-powered gadgets at its recent developers’ event in San Francisco. One demo showed how a movie being streamed to a MeeGo netbook could be transferred to a TV set top box or even a phone; another showed how a netbook or tablet running MeeGo could be used in place of a TV remote to control a MeeGo-powered TV device.

Apple has also shown an interest in having its devices work together, and in making it possible to use an iPhone to control Apple TV or to stream video from an iPad or computer to Apple TV.

But Peddibhotla maintains that only an operating system built for multiple platforms from the start can really blur the lines between them. “We offer the same core programming interfaces across all devices and that creates a lot of opportunity for developers and manufacturers–more than if you try and push a certain operating system in a new direction.”

That last comment may be a dig at Google’s Android operating system for smart phones. Manufacturers have found it difficult to use that system to make tablets capable of taking on the iPad.

Earlier this year, LG delayed plans for an Android tablet because the current generation of Android proved unsuited to devices with larger screens. Some reviewers have claimed that Samsung’s Galaxy tablet–running Android 2.2–is less than slick, demonstrating the same problem. Motorola has also said its tablet plans are on hold while it waits on an Android upgrade.

“My view on Intel’s platform is that is has an enormous potential because of their understanding of hardware,” says Guy Ben-Artzi of Particle Code, a startup that offers a tool to convert mobile apps between iPhone, Android, and other operating systems. Intel plans to use MeeGo to propel its Atom range of powerful, energy efficient processors into more devices as growth in PCs slows and phones and tablets take over, Ben-Artzi says.

Intel may still face a big challenge, though.”This is really about content,” says Ben-Artzi, who was previously CEO of Mytopia, a firm that developed social and mobile games, and which was acquired by the game company 888 Holdings in June. He says users need to feel that adopting MeeGo won’t mean missing out on good apps. “If they can’t get exciting apps onto their platform, it is not going to stick.”

A way to easily convert apps developed for, say, Android, to run on MeeGo would help address that problem. Particle already makes it possible to convert apps between other mobile platforms like Android and the iPhone, but Ben-Artzi will only say that his firm has a “good relationship” with Intel and that more will be revealed in the future.

Before MeeGo phones can reach consumers, Intel also needs to court wireless carriers. One way the firm hopes to attract them and manufacturers is by bending to their desires to customize their own versions of the OS, right down to rebranding Intel’s app store, called AppUp.

“We offer a flexible business model,” says Peddibhotla. “Carriers or OEMs can rebrand the storefront or provide exclusive apps or limit the apps in their store.” That seems likely to find favor with carriers, some of which have shown an appetite for rebranding phone software and app stores, with Verizon apparently readying its own app store for Android devices.

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