Can a new mobile operating system from ex-Nokia employees get a foothold in the marketplace? That question is now on the table, following the release earlier this week of the first handset running the open-source operating system known as Sailfish.
The phone, called Jolla, can run most Android-based apps. Most of the initial run, about 450 units, was delivered this week in a public event in Helsinki to customers who had pre-ordered the devices.
That initial order was sold out, and the Jolla Oy company (pronounced Yol-la) said it has tens of thousands of orders pending from manufacturers in 136 countries looking for an alternative to Android. Without subsidies, the phone retails for about $540, including European Union taxes. The device, which some have compared to Nokia’s Lumia line, features a 4.5-inch display, a dual-core processor, an eight megapixel camera, 4G connectivity, Nokia’s HERE map service, 16GB of memory and a user-replaceable battery that's good for up to about 10 hours per charge.
Jolla’s chairman and co-founder Antti Saarnio told Bloomberg News that the initial run was intended to demonstrate a reference model that shows “idealistic views on how we believe the mobile phone should be.” He added that his company expects to sell, through its own channels and through its partners, “millions of phones.” The company said it will start selling devices next year in Europe and China, and plans to move hundreds of thousands in its first year.
One of the company’s largest investors is Express Fortune, a Hong Kong-based division of China Fortune Holdings. Other partners include the China-based companies Alibaba, Tencent and Baida. Finnish mobile network provider DNA, one of the three largest in that country, has also been a partner.
The Linux-based Sailfish is the direct descendant of an open-source OS called MeeGo. Intel’s Moblin platform and Nokia’s Maemo had merged to become MeeGo, a joint Linux-based project of the two companies.
Moblin + Maemo
After Nokia adopted Windows Phone in 2011, Intel said it was forging ahead with MeeGo, and Sailfish is based on MeeGo. The Finnish phone released only one MeeGo-based handset, the Nokia N9.
The Yolla Oy company was started up in the same year, by engineers who had worked at Nokia. Aside from not being dependent on Google’s Android, Sailfish’s selling points include multitasking and a simplified interface based on two gestures -- swiping from the edge of the screen and from the center of the screen.
The key app store is run by Yandex NV, a Google-like company in Russia. Android apps are run through an emulator, although it's not yet clear if emulation affects performance. In addition to running most Android apps, Sailfish can operate on hardware originally built for Android, so manufacturers will not need to retool their factories.