Chapter Four In The Linux OS Saga: Nokia Making Meltemi For Low-End Mobiles

With Intel (NSDQ: INTC) now focused on Tizen, a new Linux effort with Samsung and the Limo Foundation; and no concrete signs of further handsets beyond the N9 being made on the MeeGo platform — a project jointly developed by Intel and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) — now another twist in the Mobile Linux OS story: it appears that Nokia is also working on a new Linux-based OS. Called Meltemi, the aim will be to use it on low-end devices rather than smartphones.

Meltemi, according to the WSJ, is the Greek word for the dry summer winds that blow across the Aegean Sea.

It’s not clear what that has to do with phones, but it might be a reference to Nokia’s strong and far-flung feature phone business, with activities in developing markets like South East Asia particularly big. Feature phones currently make up some 47 percent of the company’s sales.

Just today, Nokia announced that it would be closing down a feature phone-making facility in Romania, laying off 2,200 workers in the process, and consequently bumping up production in Asia in order to “provide greater scale and proximity benefits.”

Why would Nokia begin to work on a new OS for its low-end devices, rather than continue on with its current proprietary S40 platform? The growing demand for smarter, touchscreen devices, even among low-end users, is driving phones makers to be more innovative with the platforms that are sitting on these devices. Nokia’s chief competition these days, Samsung, has understood that and has been doing some impressive work on its own Linux-based Bada platform.

Also, Nokia may well face the same issue with S40 that it faced with Symbian: it can be much more challenging trying to tweak and update something developed for a different kind of device concept than it is to simply start again from scratch, as Nokia first tried to do with MeeGo and then ultimately did by opting for Microsoft’s Windows Phone for smartphones.

Nokia has not officially announced anything about Meltemi, but today is not the first time that we have heard the name.

The Register mentioned Meltemi back in April, but confusingly described it as Nokia’s Windows Phone development work. However, at the time, the Register also noted, referencing an internal memo, that MeeGo developers would have opportunities within Meltemi, which would make sense if this, like MeeGo before it, is Linux-based.