Tablet rival offers to resolve Android fragmentation

CEO of Singapore's Fusion Garage, which sells the JooJoo tablet, says current mobile app marketplaces challenged by long-tail effect and touts help for app developers struggling with compatibility issues related to Android.

SINGAPORE--The maker of the JooJoo media tablet is building a new operating system (OS) based partly on Google's Android mobile OS for its upcoming range of touch-enabled devices, says Fusion Garage executive who notes that the company's derivative OS will not carry Android's fragmentation issues.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia Thursday at its Singapore headquarters, Fusion Garage's founder and CEO, Chandrasekar Rathakrishnan, said the firm will be launching a range of touch devices sporting different screensizes in the first half of 2011.

The new devices will come under a fresh product line, separate from the company's Linux-based JooJoo media tablet, Rathakrishnan said, but did not provide specifics on what form factors the new models would take.

Unlike the JooJoo which was conceived as a Web consumption device, he said the new products will have local storage and the ability to run local apps. While these newcomers will be targeted mainly at consumers, he said Fusion Garage "does not discount" the enterprise market.

The company will not be continuing the JooJoo brand but will still provide service support for the product, said Rathakrishnan,

Launched in mid-2010, the Linux-based tablet was spawned following a high-profile fallout with TechCrunch last year in which Fusion Garage was accused of intellectual property theft.

New OS for new devices
With the new range of tablets, Fusion Garage will be swapping the Linux OS with a new OS architecture will be based partly on the Android.

Rathakrishnan said he chose the Google platform over Linux as part of efforts to leverage the stability of the mobile OS as well as the availability of Android apps.

The new Fusion Garage devices, however, will not have access to the Android Market, he said. Instead, they will be supported by a dedicated marketplace that will offer Android apps, apps built with Fusion Garage's API as well as Web-based apps, he revealed.

He added that the new OS will not have fragmentation issues faced by current Android developers.

Google currently has five versions of the Android OS including the latest Froyo version 2.2, and developers have to tailor their apps to ensure they are compatible with the different versions.

Rathakrishnan said Fusion Garage will "fix that problem" since its OS is not built completely on the Android architecture. "We are based partly on Android and we have taken all that [fragmentation issue] into consideration as we build our new architecture," he added.

To further illustrate his point, he said a developer with an existing Android app only needs to submit the software to Fusion Garage and does "not need to do anything if [they] do not want to". "[The app] will work as it is because we have support for the Android API," he noted.

The Singapore company will also release its own API for developers to "extend the Android experience" or to design apps from ground-up with its API, Rathakrishnan said.

"Developers have a choice. We believe in being open and providing not just choice to developers but to consumers as well," he added.

He also revealed that the company has "clear ideas on how to attract developers" but said it is still "premature" to elaborate on its strategies.

According to Rathakrishnan, current app marketplaces face the challenge of "the long-tail effect". "You can probably take 10 apps from any one of the app stores and say they're used by the majority of users. But everything else is probably downloaded by maybe 1 percent of the user base of each of the devices," he said.

Other challenges faced in app stores include the difficult discovery of apps and the need to create enough attention for different consumer needs, he said.

Asked about the company's growth, Rathakrishnan said Fusion Garage's headcount climbed from 14 during its inception to 40 this year. The company expects to increase the number to 60 by the end of the year.

Apart from its headquarters in Singapore, Fusion Garage currently has two overseas offices in Nanjing, China, and Bangalore, India. It also plans to add more foreign offices to expand its global presence, Rathakrishnan said.

The company has also received a second round of funding totaling S$6.5 million (US$5 million) from existing and new investors based in Singapore, and expects to close another round by the end of the year, said Rathakrishnan. All funds were pooled from private investors, he said, adding that the company might explore the possibility of securing government funds. However, he noted that the administrative requirements for public funds can be "difficult" for a growing startup.


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