Android and iOS are by far the most popular platforms for mobile development. However, there is also a significant portion of the Java community that relies on second tier platforms such as Windows Phone and RIM. One unexpectedly popular choice in TheServerside.com Readership Survey 2011 is Maemo. It rivals both Windows and RIM as a platform that organizations report developing mobile apps for (or that plan to in the future). Recently, this was the platform of choice for Nokia netbook products. However, it’s unclear what the future will hold for Maemo. In fact, there’s a lot of confusion right now about what Maemo actually is.
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Has Maemo been “versioned” out of existence?
Not long after Maemo was first introduced, Nokia teamed up with Intel to combine Maemo and Moblin into MeeGo. This hybridized mobile operating system was recently abandoned by Linux/Samsung/Intel in favor of Tizen and by Nokia in favor of the ru mored but still unrealized Meltemi. Both of these products are expected to retain some aspects of Maemo – with Meltemi in particular being a dumbed down platform that can be used on entry level mobile devices. Despite all these changes, the terms Maemo and Harmattan (Maemo 6) are still being used freely in the mobile development community. This makes it difficult to tell exactly what developers are referring to when they talk about using Maemo. However, if we assume that the term can mean any and all of the versions of the platform and SDK along with its newer offspring, it’s not surprising that it retains popularity.
Beneficial features of Maemo (and its children)
The top benefit is, of course, that Maemo follows the Linux model of being almost entirely open source. Like Linux, it has a core of diehard followers who are passionate about this solution and who take it upon themselves to handle development, improvement, and support. This holds true down the line throughout the evolution of Maemo into all its current open source versions.
The Maemo 6 version switched over from a resistive touch screen to a capacitive and multi-touch system, making the interface much more user friendly. This upgrade puts devices that use this version more on a par with products like the iPhone that are highly responsive and interactive.
The MeeGo version supports a single set of APIs across client devices. Plus, developers can create a single app that will run on many different MeeGo-supported device types (media phones, handhelds, In-Vehicle Infotainment systems, connected-TVs and netbooks). It provides a complete and optimized software stack so developers have all the tools they need to build their apps collected in one solution.
Tizen is still not fully ripe for deployment. One big difference between Tizen and older Maemo/MeeGo versions is that it supports app development using HTML5 rather than the Qt application framework. This might be viewed as a much needed modernization since web development is becoming increasingly popular. You can review the user-experience (emulated since Tizen isn’t readily available on any devices yet) at extremetech.com. There are exciting rumors that Tizen may actually be able to run some Android apps. That would make it a viable alternative for Java developers seeking additional platform options outside of Android without sacrificing what end users want in terms of device functionality.
The future of Maemo
It’s unlikely that any large mobile device manufacturer will reclaim and champion the original Maemo versions for further development under that name. Too much has changed since Maemo was first conceived. However, we can expect to see further proliferation of newer, rebranded versions of this platform – especially in the low powered mobile device market. In a few years, developers will probably stop using the term Maemo entirely as they become used to working with the more recent iterations and hybridized versions of the platform. It will be especially interesting to see if any respondents in the next Serverside.com Readership Survey even admit to using Maemo at all!