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MeeGo is Nokia and Intel’s all new collaboration. A low-powered operating system which marries the companies' now defunct Maemo and Moblin OSs, with grand plans for world domination. It doesn’t just work in smartphones. Oh no. When it was announced a couple of weeks back just, Nokia execs said it was destined for netbooks, in-car gadgetry and, yes, tablets.

While industry watchers have focused fanatically on what MeeGo means to its arch-rival Google Chrome OS, little has been made of how this all-new software will stack up against the Apple iPad.

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Apple’s “magical” new machine goes on sale this month. MeeGo itself isn’t due to show up until at least the end of 2010, more likely early 2011. Nokia itself told us that, “Meego is actually an operating system not a device, so its not something that can be compared to the iPad".

More likely, it’s something that Nokia doesn’t want compared to the iPad. Because be under no illusions, if and when MeeGo finds its way into low-powered, web-friendly tablets, comparisons amongst tech enthusiasts and confused consumers will be as rife. It’s like Google saying Android can’t be compared to the iPhone. Nokia has had its fingers burned being compared to Apple before, it won’t want the same to happen again.

“In terms of consumers and the market, I expect that with iPad and MeeGo we will see a repeat of what happened with the iPhone and then Android,” says Chris Hazelton, Research Director for Mobile and Wireless at analysts The 451 Group. “There will be some serious buzz and some traction for iPad, and we'll most likely see others try to respond and compete with it, many of them likely based on Linux and open source software such as MeeGo because of its time, licensing, developer, flexibility and other advantages.”

Doubtless though, this will confuse consumers, as the market becomes swamped with new tech and a raft of competitors vying to become top dog in a nascent space. That said, Jay Lyman, Senior Analyst at Enterprise software, thinks the battle between MeeGo and the iPad will be limited. “I think competition between MeeGo and Apple's iPad will be limited mainly to developers,” he says. “While iPad is a single device and form factor, albeit a somewhat new and emerging one, MeeGo is intended for a range of devices, including something similar to an iPad, but also other converged devices, electronics, automobile infotainment and others.”

This is certainly true to an extent, and the fact that MeeGo is an open source, Linux environment, will up the number of developers keen to get involved. But it’s clear that Nokia and Intel both want MeeGo to arrive on tablets that can rival the iPad’s excellent ease-of-use and hold a mirror up to its myriad failings as an all-round web machine. In truth, at this early stage, MeeGo leaves far more questions than it does answers.

When will it arrive? What will tablets using it cost? Apple is already poised to carve out a lead in the tablet space and Nokia obviously wants in, whether it says it or not. Can MeeGo do it? Unless it’s paired with world-beating hardware and is out very soon indeed, the answer may well be no.

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