MeeGo enjoyed what could be said to be a short lifespan as its originally-branded self, from when Intel and Nokia first announced it to the world in February 2011 until it was transferred into Tizen in 2011. However, during the time it was in operation, it demonstrated many significant features that taught the development community a lot about what did and didn’t work in terms of a multi-platform operating system.
To start with, it did what few operating systems are capable of doing well – presented users with a colourful and colour-coded user interface that never felt too noisy or populated with needless highlights and tones. From a design perspective it was a smart move. Immediately, its netbook UI was clearly noting that music was purple, chat was green, and these links of colour to function meant that when users moved between platforms, taking that colour knowledge with them meant that MeeGo, had it been sustained, could have appeared on hardware ten years later and users would know where things were.
The advantage of this is that you are teaching users not to associate functions with logos, but with colours – arguably more basic and of course, flexible, given that you could change the entire design of MeeGo save the colours and still have users be able to use it – something other operating systems would struggle with. It’s also ideal for an operating system running on multiple platforms because you’re not relying on clarity of detail afforded by screen resolution in order to communicate anything to the user. Being able to note a category in a single pixel is a powerful design asset.
In addition to the fact that the UI was generally clear and concise and never overly cluttered, its implementation on both netbooks and smartphones was a significant step in the right direction. Apple now looks to slowly merge features from iOS and OSX in order to offer users a more conflated sense of what is going on with different platforms running on the same operating systems, and MeeGo was no different. Interestingly, it also reversed the traditional roles of desktop and smartphone operating systems in terms of their detail level.
Case in point – the MeeGo experience on a handset is one of detailed icons, whilst the aforementioned “colour” approach for the desktop remains. What’s interesting about this is that to compensate for the loss of screen size on the handset, the icons are made more intricate, and thus the handset version of MeeGo doesn’t feel like a lesser version of a computer’s OS – but rather designed for the hardware it’s running on. It’s a smart move, and one to be admired by those who don’t want their mobile OS version to feel “lesser.”
However, despite its design successes, the fact that the OS no longer exists in its original form is proof in itself that there were flaws, and analysing these can teach us just as much, if not more, about what to bear in mind when taking on design tasks.
The problem with MeeGo was that it was competing with two mobile platforms that were evolving at lightspeed and powered by two of the biggest tech companies in the world – Google’s Android, and Apple’s iOS. Despite the good UI choices made with MeeGo, it didn’t have the push behind it required to showcase how fast and capable it actually was. It wasn’t a flaw so much as a lack of backing by Nokia, despite some positive PR. One could argue that given Android fought its way out from behind the already-dominating iOS, it’s possible for a new mobile platform to succeed, but at least it was quickly reeled back in and put to work under the Tizen moniker and not left in the “good but not quite good enough” limbo that the timeline of the Windows Phone OS seems to sit in.
MeeGo was an exemplary bit of multi-platform software design, but sadly even the wheel reinvented will pale in comparison to those who got there with ovals first.
“David Thompson is a fresh and upcoming technology and entertainment blogger who enjoys the challenges of creativity and attention to detail. His specific areas of interest include film, real estate and the mobile industry.”