Intel kept in the dark over Nokia’s MeeGo plans; operators reject first device

Prior to the public announcement on Friday, Intel was kept in the dark with regards to Nokia’s plans to relegate MeeGo to a glorified R&D project, sources with knowledge of the situation tell TechCrunch Europe.

The U.S. chip maker, it appears, was caught off guard as were many media outlets and analysts – this publication aside – with the news that Nokia has forged a long term partnership with Microsoft that will see the handset maker adopt Windows Phone as its primary smartphone platform. Intel, which along with Nokia is developing the MeeGo operating system, is said to be extremely concerned now that Nokia will inevitably reduce its engineering commitment, which it desperately needs, and where this leaves plans to get its Atom chip into smartphones and other mobile devices.

We’ve also learned that Nokia’s first MeeGo device, originally scheduled to be announced late last year, has been sent back to the drawing board by operators.

The problem, says our source, is in relation to the “flimsy” hardware keyboard mechanism, which fell short of operator standards. This is surprising as it’s thought to share a similar hinge to the N97 and E7, both of which were accepted by carriers, although it could be that MeeGo requires a larger CPU and battery compared to Symbian and therefore leaves less room in the chassis. As a result, the first MeeGo smartphone, thought to be the N9-00, has indeed been canned. Instead, a second (and possibly last) MeeGo smartphone on the roadmap – the N9-01 – sans physical keyboard will be pushed out first, as earlier reported by Engadget.

Interestingly, well-placed sources also tell us that the device won’t feature the stock MeeGo UI but instead one designed by “a three person external team rather than any of Nokia’s hundreds of internal designers.” It could be announced as early as tomorrow at Mobile World Congress.

While not creating quite the same fanfare as Nokia’s newly forged partnership with Microsoft, the tie-in with Intel to co-develop MeeGo announced just under a year ago was seen by the industry as a pretty big deal. It was hoped that the open-source OS would put Nokia back into a leadership position in the smartphone space as Symbian inevitably trickled down to lower-cost, mass-market devices, while in turn and somewhat ironically it would give Intel the heavyweight partner it needed to “catalyse” MeeGo’s ecosystem. It also added immediate credibility to the chip maker’s aim to put “Intel inside” smartphones, tablets and other types of converged devices.

Twelve months later, however, and it’s abundantly clear that Nokia is choosing to “catalyse” Microsoft’s Windows Phone ecosystem instead.