Sailfish OS: creating the mainstream alternative


The fourth article from our Open platform series featuring Finnish project Jolla and its OS Sailfish, inheriting the Nokia’s finest with the pop of extravagance

At this year’s Mobile World Congress the Jolla stand was dominated by a huge slogan “A brave new phone”. And indeed it is, thinking about the current mobile market landscape, with Samsung, Google and Apple. Jolla’s self-confidence comes from carefully designed phone, powered by new Sailfish OS, that inherits only the best from MeeGo, Nokia’s Linux based OS. But can it succeed in a saturated market, where even Windows Phone and Blackberry are struggling for survival? But let’s start from the beginning, and discover the exciting story behind Jolla and its OS.

Photo via Tech Crunch

Back in the early 2011, a famous announcement by Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO, stated simply that all Nokia devices will be adopting Windows Phone. What is actually meant was the abandoning of the Nokia’s MeeGo, based on Linux and running on N9, the first and the last device with this OS. Even though the N9 received great reviews, the MeeGo was officially abandoned.

But developers didn’t quite agree. The head of Nokia’s Research Team Marc Dillon decided to gather the best team mates and continue the work, “resurrecting” the MeeGo OS. Nokia’s “Bridge” program, which supports start-ups formed by ex-Nokia employees came in very handy: Dillon and his trustees created Jolla, a company aiming for a “high-end experience without high-end hardware”. In December 2012, just 6 months after the company was established, Sailfish OS demo was announced.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the Jolla phone key features:

  1. 4.5 in IPS qHD display
  2. 16 GB storage
  3. 1 GB RAM
  4. a microSD slot and an 8 MP camera.

The most innovative hardware feature is “The Other Half”: the phone is divided in 2 parts, main half of the device, containing the display and processor and the back half, expandable and with changeable covers, available in different colors. The opportunity to augment initial hardware and personalize phone’s design are surely helping this device stand out in the current mobile market offer.

Jolla smartphones running on Sailfish, are, in the words of its developers “designed with consumer needs in mind, such as intuitive use, multitasking and effortless interaction”. And indeed, software wise, Sailfish is all about the UI that is entirely gesture based, without any navigation buttons. Through a series of swipes and drags the navigation is very fluid and fast, but quite unusual if you’re used to iOS/Android interface. One of the major PROs, often cited in the reviews, is the Android support engine that allows native Android apps to run on the device, providing a head start among all the other open platforms on the market.

Returning to the question we posed at the beginning of this article, can Jolla actually succeed? With the current price tag of €399 it surely can’t count on the mass market penetration. But, maybe it’s not aiming for it. The real target might be the non-mainstream current of users, who feel a bit bored with what Apple or Google have to offer, but still want a quality device with less orthodox features.

The January sales statistics form its home country are quite encouraging: Jolla managed to overtake iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s on its network, Finnish carrier DNA, taking the fifth position after 3 Samsung phones and Nokia Lumia520. But, nevertheless, the company is not interested in big sales at the moment, as their business model would involve licensing the Sailfish operating system to bigger mobile makers, making Jolla’s own sales figures less important[1]. That is a very pragmatic strategy, but will it eventually work out or will it just remain “mysterious and sometimes confusing”[2]? One thing is sure: a brave new phone is here to stay and compete.


Check out the full Open platform series featuring:

  1. Firefox OS: the HTML5 Mobile OS
  2. Tizen: designed to run on everything
  3. Jolla OS: creating the mainstream alternative

and stay tuned for more to come:

4. Ubuntu OS: will Linux on your phone challenge the establishment?