One look at the N8 and E7 should be enough to convince the casual observer that Nokia is serious about design. The man behind Nokia's hardware and software design for the last year is Marko Ahtisaari, Senior Vice President of Design and former CEO and co-founder of Dopplr. We asked Marco what it would take to be successful in the US market. His response, while not direct, was still illuminating and gives us implicit insight into how MeeGo, not Symbian, might be Nokia's near-term play to conquer the American smartphone market. While gesturing to the N8, Marko had this to say:
"In the US I think it will require a somewhat more consequent approach in the high end. No matter how smooth and fast we make this, and we improve the camera -- this is the best camera right -- it still won't cut though enough until we do an operating system level innovation. It will do extremely well in the market but it's not a breakthrough device."
Marko later added this clarification:
"In order to cut through in the media environment, I think you need to do operating system level innovation. The products will be cut-through successes in the market, in people's hands, in share of palms and share of thumbs it will be successful. But in order for it to cut through and people to say, whoa, why didn't somebody else think about that and that's kind of what Nokia should do, it will be easier to cut through, from the media point of view, with MeeGo."
In other words, it's the media (read: us), in Marko's opinion, that will affect consumer opinion by influencing enthusiasts (read: you) who will in turn evangelize Nokia's products throughout the US. MeeGo, not Symbian, is the product that will generate that degree of buzz and excitement. Marko finished by adding, "My goal is that very soon it will be cool to upgrade to the Nokia."

So, what will Nokia's high-end MeeGo devices look like? Click through to find out.

Marko also discussed the use of anodized aluminum in the N8 and E7, saying, "we're applying that a lot in the future high-end MeeGo roadmap. That doesn't mean that it's all anodized aluminum." Of course, we then mentioned the very aluminum-looking Nokia N9 images and Marko grew uncomfortable, avoiding eye contact, and responded, "we see lots of things online, and you publish them occasionally, but that's not what I'm talking about." Sure Marko, sure.

Regardless of Marko's relative candor, we have to say that we're very disappointed that the rest of Nokia's execs were unwilling to discuss MeeGo at Nokia World. Especially after all the sly grins, winks, and suggestive nods we received from Nokia employees at all levels hinting at MeeGo's awesomeness. But it's also troubling given Nokia's promise to launch a MeeGo device in 2010 -- with just three and a half months left in the year (and Nokia being notorious for announcing products long before shipping), we still don't have a MeeGo smartphone announcement. Even worse, Nokia just passed on an opportunity to rally 3,000 of its most loyal developers around its new flagship platform while gathered together under the same roof in London.

It's clear that Nokia is leaving room in its product portfolio for a high-end MeeGo device. Amazingly, the N900 and its ARM Cortex-A8 processor will still be the most powerful Nokia handset you can buy even after all the new Symbian^3 devices announced at Nokia World go on sale... more than 13 months after it was originally announced. While Nokia told us that it had nothing to announce about a timeline change for MeeGo, we can't help but get the impression that it's going to slip into early 2011. Especially with the disruption of having a new North American CEO taking the reins, the loss of its Mobile Solutions chief Anssi Vanjoki, and the addition of Palm's Peter Skillman who'll have direct say over the oh-so-critical MeeGo user experience. And honestly, as much as we lust after that supposedly leaked N9 MeeGo slider, we'd rather see Nokia slip the introduction than blow what could be its last, best chance to crack the US smartphone market.

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Nokia's VP of Design has a plan to crack the US market with MeeGo, and we're all accomplices