Although certainly not the first time a mobile platform long put to pasture has been called back into service, I found myself intrigued by the Wall Street Journal report that Finnish mobile start-up company JollaMobile is looking to revive the defunct MeeGo operating system. For those who might have blinked and missed MeeGo’s 15 minutes of fame, the Linux-based OS was the love child of a partnership between Nokia and Intel, blending the former’s Maemo OS with Intel’s Moblin platform back in 2010.
Jolla, made up of former Nokia employees, is in the process of securing manufacturing and chip-set partners with hopes of having a viable market-ready MeeGo smartphone within the next six months.
What interests me about this story is that while laudable, how from the outset it seems doomed to failure. Not only have we seen innumerable attempts to revive antiquated technology all end in failure—HP’s Palm fiasco comes to mind—but the simple fact is with the mobile market the way it is, there just isn’t any room for another mobile platform.
While MeeGo did have its supporters (it was once hosted by the Linux Foundation) the platform had limited exposure here in North America—where at the time the dominance of iOS and Blackberry coupled with the rise of Android made this a very competitive market—but did see some success in other parts of the world. The project, you might also remember, was abandoned first by Nokia, who tethered its wagon to Microsoft’s WinPho horse, and then by Intel, who scuttled the project in favour of a new Linux based platform.
Since then MeeGo has been without a home, floating through the void of technological nothingness, finally adopted late last year by JollaMobile. Not surprisingly, the Finnish mobile start-up consists of many former Nokia employees who spearheaded the MeeGo project, likely the only people in the world who don’t want to see the efforts put into MeeGo go to waste.
But my sarcasm aside, there is a very real possibility that JollaMobile will be able to get a functional MeeGo smartphone to market in six months. As tech analyst Rob Enderle writes, “Apple did this in about the same length of time, and they started behind where Jolla is,” pointing out that, “Apple had to overcome physical limitations with the first iPhone, and Jolla no longer has to do that. Off-the-shelf technology has improved massively since the iPhone was launched.”
Of course the key difference is that Apple was pioneering a new genre of mobile device whereas JollaMobile is looking to break into a market already dominated by iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, and Blackberry. This leads me to the first of manyunanswered questions surrounding MeeGo; can the market sustain another operating system?
Since the rise of mobile apps device-makers have faced a difficult Catch-22: Platforms won’t attract developers until there’s a sufficient user base, but users won’t be attracted to the platform until there are a host of compelling apps.
Next one has to question the overall viability of the project. If market giants Nokia and Intel couldn’t rally their substantial resources to get MeeGo off the ground, what hope does a small start-up have? There’s no question that the odds are stacked against Jolla.
But that said, start-ups have surprised me before and even though were I a betting man my money would be firmly against JollaMobile and its MeeGo platform, part of me always roots for the little guy, hoping that this small company will make it big where so many others have failed.