The Lord of the Rings OS: One OS to rule them all?

Convergence – the combination of multiple entertainment and communication devices and platforms – has been one of those terms tossed around for decades. I first wrote about it in the mid-1990s when I was at university. It has been a rather quixotic quest until now. The handheld devices weren’t powerful or flexible enough. They didn’t have enough storage. Set-top boxes and televisions were pretty dumb in terms of what they could do. They did one thing really well and weren’t extensible. However, we’re starting to see the first glimmer of the pieces falling into place. As Rob Andrews of wrote ahead of the recent launch of Google TV, “Innovation in the connected-TV space is about to explode, in to several, rival parts.” Moreover, it’s not just connected TVs but connected everything – TVs, tablets, phones and computers.

Apple, of course, has been knitting together its vision around OS X and its little brother, iOS. Microsoft has been trying to push this as well for years. While years in the making, their efforts are only now maturing to the point where they are actually compelling. Microsoft tying their new mobile OS to XBox 360 might be a very smart play. Apple’s iOS universe of iPhone, iPad and Apple TV shows their vision.

The two big consumer computer OS makers aren’t the only ones in this game. Motorola is showing off advanced demos of its phones and set-top boxes seamlessly share content, and KDDI in Japan has been using an earlier version of the system for its au Box service. Motorola is now adding its social-network mad Motoblur interface to its set-top boxes. Yes, indeed, it is all blurring together.

Google now has its TV offering with Sony, Logitech and other partners, and this brings together connected televisions, Blu-Ray players and the Android platform on the TV and mobile phones. You can now search broadcast and internet video content just as you search for things on the web. Google TV also runs Android apps and connects nicely to Android phones.

The dark horse in this race is MeeGo, the marriage of Intel’s Mobile and Nokia’s Maemo Linux-based efforts. The goal is the same, to knit together a seamless experience across mobile, home entertainment and other devices such as tablets and netbooks. MeeGo phones are expected to appear in early 2011. Intel believes that building an OS from the ground up for multiple platforms is superior to Google’s approach to drive Android to a range of platforms.

Intel and Nokia definitely have the hardware background, but the interface and content partnerships will be key to this. As recent reviews of its recently released flagship N8 smartphone show, Nokia has the hardware knowledge to make great phones, but it needs to radically rethink its user experience. With consumer electronics, you have to make powerful hardware that is so simple to use that it borders on seeming magical. Will MeeGo be a clean break from its past? We’ll have to see.

Whether you call it convergence or the post-PC era, to resurrect another decade-old phrase, the game is really on now with players from the computer, internet, consumer entertainment and content industries all approaching this from slightly different angles. This will remake technology, entertainment and information, and the battle is now on.