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Linux phone specialist nets $14.5M investment

Sep 25, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

A design center in the South of France specializing in Linux mobile phone development has raised $14.5 million (10.5 Euros) in an initial funding round. The Series A round reportedly will enable Purple Labs to expand into a “one-stop” hardware/software Linux device design center.

Previously, Purple Labs was a wholly owned subsidiary of Vitelcom, a Spanish phone manufacturer. Purple Labs's lead investor, Sofinnova Partners of Paris, five months ago bought out Vitelcom. Other new Purple Labs investors include software and tech company investor Earlybird of Munich, and Partners Group of Zurich, an “alternative” asset management company specializing in private equity, private debt, and hedge funds.

Purple Labs said the funding will allow it to better serve existing customers, but also to expand into new markets. A statement released by the company today reads in part, “From its beginning as a design center specializing in mobile phone development, Purple Labs has expanded its operation to market and distribute its full, low-cost Linux solution.”

Presumably, this indicates an interest in expanding beyond the mobile phone market into other device categories as well. The company said it can offer “one-stop” services “from hardware reference design to a complete customizable Linux software suite.” One specialty will likely be virtualization, as Purple Labs was the first company to design a single-core mobile phone using VirtualLogix's VLX-MH virtualization layer.

So far, Purple Labs's published open source Linux suite is based on a 2.4.20 kernel, with optimizations for TI OMAP730 and OMAP850 chips. The company appears to have contributed quite a few phone-related Linux drivers to open source.

Purple Labs's Linux-based mobile phones

Purple Labs is probably best-known for designing the Grundig G500i “Dreamphone”, a quad-band GSM/EDGE phone based on a 2.4.20 kernel and a TI OMAP730 processor. The G500i was distributed by Buoygues (“Bweeg”), a small French carrier with about eight million subscribers, thus becoming “the first Linux phone approved by a major European carrier,” according to Purple Labs.

The G500i was also the first “fashion phone” to support iMode, an Internet-like packet-switched data service popular in Japan. Measuring 3.3 x 1.8 x 0.9 inches, and weighing less than three ounces (85gr), it was smaller and sleeker than the MOAP Linux-based iMode phones of the day from NEC and Panasonic.

Grundig Dreamphone G500i, designed by Purple Labs
(Click to enlarge)

More recently, Purple Labs designed the Blackberry-like B700, another quad-band GSM/GRPR/EDGE phone featuring a 2.4-inch QVGA (240×320) TFT screen, 2-megapixel CMOS camera, and a full QWERTY keypad.

Purple Labs's B700
(Click to enlarge)

Grundig U900
(Click to enlarge)

Subsequently, Purple Labs designed a lower-end phone aimed at bringing Linux to the mass market. The Grundig U900 (pictured at right) is positioned as the first production-ready phone with a single-core architecture, on which the RTOS-based software-defined radio baseband stack and Linux-based application software stack share the same processor. The phone is based on an NXP 7210 hardware reference design.

The U900 also uses VirtualLogix's VLX-MH virtualization layer. VirtualLogix CTO Michel Gien told LinuxDevices that as of last month, the phone had not yet been picked up by any major mobile operators, however.

Coincidentally VirtualLogix (then known as “Jaluna”) itself raised $12M in its Series A funding round, a sum that made it France's fourth-best funded startup in 2004. Jaluna subsequently relocated its headquarters to the U.S., although its development offices remain in Paris's high-tech suburb, San Quentin en Evelines.

Roland Manger, managing director at Earlybird, commented in a statement that “The open operating systems market for mobile is now taking off, and Linux will represent a large market share. Purple Labs has not only a fully operational technology allowing the lowest cost handsets to run on Linux, but also a fully proven technology already embedded in millions of phones.”

Jean Schmitt, managing director at Sofinnova Partners, added, “A fast moving market, a proven technology, a strong team, a fine set of investors: we believe these are the ingredients for a recipe of success.”

Dennis O'Donovan, Purple Labs co-founder, added, “Purple Labs has made substantial investments in Linux over the years, convinced of its benefits to design houses, ODM's, and manufacturers looking for a powerful software platform. We're pleased to have respected investors validating our technical choice.”

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