Former Nokia engineers raise $258 million for MeeGo phones - could the same be possible with Open webOS?
While fans of webOS might feel they've been slighted over the years, our anguish is a different beast than that of the MeeGo fan. If you're not familiar with MeeGo, or even aware of it, we wouldn't blame you. MeeGo was introduced in early 2010 by Nokia and Intel. It was the combination of Intel's Moblin development efforts and Nokia's Maemo, and it was supposed to represent the future for both companies. A year later, Microsoft and Nokia shacked up together, and where Microsoft's Windows Phone OS took the high- and middle-tiers of Nokia's smartphone strategy, Nokia's old workhorse Symbian retained the bottom tier. MeeGo was unceremoniously put out to pasture, with the too-far-in-development-to-kill Nokia N9 getting released later that year as the world's first and so far only MeeGo device.
Thing is, everybody we've talked to who has used an N9 rather liked MeeGo. It's a unique OS and very much gesture-oriented. But having been released on only one device with no fanfare and certainly not much in the way of carrier support, it never took off. But then, it also never got established in the minds of consumers and then yanked as webOS was, thus avoiding being termed a failure (as webOS is so often branded, in spite of the failure being one of patience, not product). Unlike webOS, however, MeeGo has been open source from the start.
Earlier this year, a group of former Nokia employees that had worked on MeeGo and the N9 formed a company called Jolla, with the express purpose of releasing a new phone running MeeGo. We've been cheering them on a bit, but in a smartphone landscape dominated by multi-billion-dollar companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung with big players like Microsoft willing to put down their own billions, we weren't ever really optimistic about the chance for little Jolla.
Well, apparently they've got something slick in the works, as this week Jolla announced that they've raised €200 million (US$258 million) towards producing their first MeeGo-running smartphone by the end of this year. In fact, the plan to unveil the as-of-yet unseen smartphone codenamed "Sailfish" in November. With the talent portion already secured, to go fast Jolla needed money. [see: Fast, good, or cheap - or why you can't build a smartphone]
Which led us to wonder… is this the sort of thing that could happen for webOS? There are several hundred former Palm employees floating around out there, with the unit's headcount having been reduced by around three quarters from a peak of around a thousand employees. There are even several high-level big-money big-thought types formerly involved with Palm out there, not committed to big ventures, including former Palm CEOs Jon Rubinstein, Ed Colligan, and Donna Dubinsky, along with Palm founder Jeff Hawkins, though they all seem to be more or less retired from the mobile space.
The biggest problem for trying to reconstitute a webOS company from the ashes of Palm is that a good majority of those hundreds of former Palm employees live in Silicon Valley. Unlike Finland, where if you leave Nokia there's not a multitude of other options for picking up designing hardware and software for mobile devices, Silicon Valley is lush with opportunity for a newly-unemployed smartphone engineer/designer/developer. Within ten miles of the former Palm campus in Sunnyvale one can find the headquarters for Apple, Google, Facebook, HP, Nvidia, Intel, and Yahoo, as well as major offices of Microsoft and Nokia (who scooped up several ex-Palm employees). If you leave Nokia in Finland, you're going to work on something other than smartphones. If you leave Palm in California, there are a dozen options within walking distance where you can still make smartphones.
That's not to say it wouldn't be impossible. Most of the former Palm employees we've talked to over the years still have a very warm place in their hears for webOS. Whether they'd be willing to give up their cushy new jobs as Apple and Google is another question.
And of course there's the question of if the reconstituted Palm could ever hope to raise a significant amount of cash to be able to make new hardware (since that's not what Gram is going to do). It's reported that one of the investors in Jolla is a network operator and another is a chipset builder. webOS, meanwhile, has left a bitter taste in the mouth of not one, not two, but three US carriers, plus a dozen more in Europe. We could debate the reasoning behind the introduction of that bitter taste for some time, but that's not the point of this article. But the fact remains that both the carriers and HP have done some serious bridge-burning, and some of those are the very same bridges a new webOS start-up formed by the 'old guard' would be wanting to cross.
As we're wont to do, there's a lot of negativity wound up in this article. We don't sugarcoat here - webOS is facing an uphill battle. But if a never-ran like MeeGo can attract a quarter million dollars in funding, what's to say a new Open webOS-based startup couldn't do the same (don't say Kickstarter)?
Source: Wall Street Journal