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Nokia phones circa 2009

Above: 2009-era Nokia feature phones

Not content to let its feature phone software stagnate, Nokia is apparently working on a new low-end mobile operating system called “Meltemi,” which will allow the company to sell more capable phones in emerging markets.

News of the Linux-based Meltemi, which is the Greek word for winds that blow across the Aegean see from the north during summer, was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

For Nokia, Meltemi is a sign that the company isn’t forgetting about low-end devices, a segment which represented about 47 percent of its device sales last quarter. It’s also a strong hint that the company isn’t willing to be entirely on another company’s platform. Nokia recently abandoned its plans to develop the MeeGo operating system with Intel (though it is releasing a single MeeGo device for some reason, the N9) in exchange for adopting Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform.

Meltemi will allow Nokia to continue innovating with low-end feature phones — which is important, since consumers in emerging markets expect smartphone-like functionality from their feature phones, a source tells the WSJ. Developing a new OS will let Nokia offer those devices at cheaper prices than if they used Windows Phone 7, which requires beefier hardware and licensing fees to Microsoft. As the WSJ points out, Meltemi could be Nokia’s equivalent of Samsung’s Bada platform for low-end phones.

The new software will completely replace Nokia’s S40 software in feature phones, according to the mobile site Boy Genius Report. “Nokia’s vision is seemingly to build an operating system with capability that reaches well beyond “S40,” but that can function on similar low-cost hardware,” writes BGR’s Zach Epstein. “This new platform will be fairly capable, but our understanding is that it will not be a full-fledged OS intended to compete with the likes of Android, iOS and Windows Phone.”

Nokia will still develop inexpensive Windows Phone devices in some markets, BGR says. That will likely happen with Microsoft’s recently announced “Tango” version of the OS, which offers a stripped down experience for low-end hardware.

Nokia has yet to confirm Meltemi’s existence, but a spokesperson told BGR in a statement “our Mobile Phones team has a number of exciting projects in the works that will help connect the next billion consumers to the Internet.”

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