One Giant Leap for MeeGo
After 12 years at Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Jussi Hurmola leapt from his employer's notorious "burning platform" earlier this year and landed as CEO of a new smartphone company called Jolla Ltd. (See Nokia Refugees Revive MeeGo and Euronews: MeeGo Is Reborn.)
Hurmola now leads the Finnish startup that plans to design, develop and sell smartphones based on the MeeGo open-source operating system, which was spurned by his former employer Nokia in favor of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Windows Phone OS.
Headquartered in Helsinki, with an R&D facility in Tampere, Finland, the company has about 50 employees comprising a group of former Nokia employees who had been working on the MeeGo N9 device as well as other MeeGo professionals. Hurmola himself was director of Nokia's MeeGo program. (See Startup Develops MeeGo Smartphones.)
Beyond that basic information, though, little is known about his company, such as who the investors are, how much funding it has raised, details about its products, and when it will actually sell those products.
But we do know that the word Jolla in the Finnish language means a small sailboat.
In an interview with Light Reading Mobile, Hurmola did not reveal details about the new products or identify the company's private investors, but he did say that he wants to bring something genuinely new to the market.
"We're concentrating on the user interface and the user experience," he said. "We want to create something new. [Apple's] iOS and [Samsung's] Galaxy have been out there for a while. There is an expectation for something new and fresh in the market."
Hurmola dropped a clue about what such a different user experience could be like when he talked of the multi-tasking and event-collecting capabilities of the MeeGo OS. However, what Jolla is working on is not exactly MeeGo, but an OS that is based on MeeGo.
"We've learned a lot from the first MeeGo product [Nokia's N9]," he said. "MeeGo is about multi-tasking -- having all your apps and information available to you at the same time and having multiple screens of apps open and all usable at the same time."
So how does a little company with 50 employees -- with plans to expand to 100 staff by the end of the year -- take on smartphone giants like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Samsung Corp. , or even his old company Nokia?
Hurmola said that's not his goal.
"We're fighting for something, not against something," he said. "What we are building, we will make a difference in the market -- a new ecosystem, a new user experience."
And Hurmola knows Jolla will need strong partners to achieve that. The company has already teamed with the largest mobile phone retailer in China, called D.Phone Group, which Hurmola said is the first of its partnerships that will be announced.
Hurmola noted that the Chinese distribution deal should not be taken as a hint for where Jolla plans to launch first.
"We are aiming for a global market, but want to have a local element," he said. "[The D.Phone deal] is very important for us because it shows that we have substance behind our message -- the devices will be sold and will be popular."
Hurmola said he is also talking to mobile operators. "Operator subsidies generally are very important for companies who sell devices," he said. "We're negotiating with operators to make sure that we are mutually benefiting. We are a small player and we need big partners."
So when will the market see these new devices and try out the user experience?
"We will reveal the device later this year," he said. "We're not communicating sale start date. And we're not promising something we can't keep."
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile