Ali, Michael and I have had the pleasure of discussing Nokia’s Meltemi plans with a once Nokia employee on the Meltemi team.
They’ve shared a wealth of information with us which we’ll be publishing over a series of posts so the amount of text won’t be too overwhelming.
Thank you very much again for taking the time to explain the world of Meltemi.
Without further ado:
What was Meltemi?
When did Meltemi start?
So you started with the question that has longest answer. 😉 I’ve added the second question as it gets answered here too.
Meltemi was a child of OPK/Vanjoki era. It was not “MeeGo 2.0” as it was not made from MeeGo code base (although some code was copied from there). It was a light Linux-based OS running on top of modified Android kernel (to ensure HW compatibility).
Now I came to project later so I have only second hand info on when and how the project started. To my knowledge the project started mid-2010 as a small proof-of-concept that was running in the prototype HW of phone that later came to be Asha 311. (Just to be clear: The Meltemi team borrowed HW from S40 project for their work. Asha 311 has zero connection to Meltemi.)
To fully understand how Meltemi fits into the big picture one has to know a bit of the backgrounds: In 2010 the Nokia strategy was to use QML (very high level Qt framework) for 3rd party apps. That would have solved the fragmentation issue Nokia had as they were either using or planning to use Series 60v5, Symbian^3, Symbian^4 (that got cancelled) and MeeGo parallel. There was not going to be app compatibility except that Symbian^3 could run older Series 60 apps. The vast majority of the phones sold and in the field were running and were going to run older versions of Symbian.
In the squeeze of Android and iOS Nokia had an issue with app development. It was not enough if 3rd party developers made Qt app for one platform as apps should have been available for all of them. Symbian^3 solved the issue with binary compatibility, but with MeeGo that would have been too much. Qt app could be recompiled and deployed on new platform but past had shown that not all developers did that, especially old apps were rarely getting any attention when new OS version was launched.
Symbian^3 was just getting out of the door. Maemo Harmattan was not yet there. Intel MeeGo (yet another binary incompatible OS to mix) was yet to come. Meltemi was at concept state. Apps made in 2010 were needed to be available for all future platforms but history was full of examples of that not happening.
QML was supposed to be the silver bullet that would have solved ALL of this. QML apps are not compiled so same app files could be deployed on any platform. If developer made app UI properly, it could have been scaled on the fly. Initially Meltemi team had very strict instructions that any app made for N9 needs to be able to be deployed on N9 “as is”.
Now with all this we get to Meltemi and it’s place in the setup. Undoubtedly it would have been launched as a smartphone but in reality it was at least initially going to be more like a feature phone. The key selling point was going to be in UI and usability. Meltemi was supposed to provide user experience of high-end phones while being priced close to the 100€ marker.
That is only part of what Meltemi was originally. Then there’s the part of “what Meltemi grew to be”. I could go on and on but I’ll take the other questions now and continue in another email or smth. just be aware that I’ve merely started here. 😉
How many people were working on it?
Originally (i.e. 2010) I’d say 70 people, tops. By the time project was cancelled in 2012, there were over 1000 people if we include product creation, design, testing and subcontracting – mostly in Oulu and Ulm.
Where were the offices?
There was internal battle between Oulu and Copenhagen about which site gets to do Meltemi UI development. Eventually Oulu won and that is the main reason why Copenhagen office was closed in 2011. Other main site was Ulm, Germany. Product creation took place in both. In addition to that there was SW development in Espoo, Tampere, Cambridge, Qt sites (Oslo, Brisbane, you name it) and Nokia Design from London. Cross-location eventually became one of the big problems.
What price point was it aiming for?
IIRC original aim was 120€ and we were later told that Windows Phone will be able to reach that proce point so next products will have to be able to get even lower.
Was Meltemi ready?
First devices were scheduled to be launched on 1H 2013. By experience I can tell that is equal to “we cannot promise Q1” so they were at least 9 months away from launch. We worked on expectation that we will reach “feature complete” by end of year 2012. In June 2012 the basic features were in a state where we could have used the phone as a daily – well – phone 😉 within 2-3 weeks. This I assume is the main story behind “almost ready” that you too must have heard.
Did it have any connection with with Smarterphone?
No. Smarterphone acquisition was for feature phones and did not replace Meltemi or make it obsolete.
Any connection to MeeGo/N9 teams?
Still tons of. There was some code that was copied from Maemo Harmattan, at least middleware and email I am aware of. We did lot of knowledge sharing with N9 people. When MeeGo teams were being downsized, several of them were moved to Meltemi instead.
I previously mentioned that Meltemi “grew to be” something else. I have heard a version of this story where MeeGo personnel have been blamed for that. I don’t think so – Meltemi team was well capable of messing things up by themselves.
What was the reaction to Elop?
I’ve only been in the project at the time Elop already was the CEO so I don’t know. If you mean what was Elop’s reaction to Meltemi, he was excited about it. He visited the R&D several times and was always keen to see latest developments. (When things started to go wrong his visits also pretty much ended.)
You have to understand that Meltemi had a clear place in Elop’s post-Feb 11th strategy. Elop said it in person after the cancellation of the project that the decision to kill Meltemi meant that Nokia will have a gap in their portfolio between cheapest Lumia and most expensive feature phone and there is nothing in sight to fill that gap.
What was the reaction to WindowsPhone?
Well the new strategy was a shock. We were building a future where Nokia’s low end offering is based on Qt and the QML apps from one device must work also on others. The next day we get to hear that N9 will be the only product that makes it and the requirement of transferability of apps can be forgotten. But Meltemi was given high importance and support. It was needed since Windows Phones could not reach those low price points.
Could Nokia have been successful with their MeeGo/Meltemi/Symbian approach (i.e. Sans Elop/WP)?
This is a matter of opinion. Had you asked Anssi Vanjoki in 2010, he probably would have said yes. Heck, he still says N9 is the best Nokia smartphone ever made! (And it is very good device though.) On the other hand several analysts were already in late 2010 suspecting that Nokia will not be able to match the challenge of Android by their own. I have been giving a lot of thought on this during last 2 and a half years and I have come to the conclusion that the answer is no. As said, app compatibility was missing so Nokia needed to lure developers to make QML apps for MeeGo/Symbian/Meltemi. Old apps could not be ported, practically it was a start from the scratch. In contrast Microsoft had huge developer program, one of the best IDEs available and literal billions of dollars to use for their advertisement/promotion. They did not manage to make a dent to the Android-iOS duopoly. BlackBerry had their corporate customer base, fan base, app store almost size of Ovi store… and they are now in rounding errors of the industry. So I have come to believe Nokia could have not pulled it off alone either.
It was rather insane, really: e.g. China market approval required support for multiple features that iPhone has never supported and Windows Phone still does not support. Chinese carriers one by one took iPhone “as is” so they could keep their most profitable customer base. For a reason I can’t even guess Windows Phone was equally accepted by carriers with all the missing features. Meltemi was a no-go unless we were able to support every legacy feature in the China market approval list. That was very frustrating and shows well the mountain Nokia would have had to climb by themselves. And at the same time Android already had the best carrier support of all. Using Android would have removed that issue altogether.
Android would have been their safest bet.
I recently learned that there is now a court ruling in Finland which means corporations cannot have “indefinite period NDAs”. So, 2 years after the employment is terminated, NDA expires.
So why share this info anonymously?
Meltemi employees formed a very close group, and still do. So I don’t want to jeopardize any of the good friendships I have as I know some people still feel our duty would be to take the secret to grave with us.