Based on Linux and orphaned by Nokia, Sailfish OS debuting on Jolla handset

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

The first mobile phone based on the Sailfish operating system has been unveiled by Jolla, a company that splintered off of Nokia when it gave up on the MeeGo OS. It’s feature packed and is trying to differentiate itself by offering customizable backs for the fashion conscious.

So far, it fails to impress. I don’t see a killer sales proposition for the Jolla phone. Swappable backs are fine, but I doubt many people will cough up $500 because a phone is easy to accessorize. At this point, it looks like Jolla is promoting a software developers kit, not a ready for prime time consumer product.

If I’m reading the specs correctly, they’re not putting all their money on Sailfish – it’s Android compatible, at least up to a point. It’s probably possible for them to switch OSes if that looks like a good idea.

But I don’t know what the point would be without Sailfish. Jolla can’t expect to be anything other than a niche player, and creating a niche based on a novel operating system isn’t completely crazy. Just ask Blackberry.

The problem is that of the four alternative operating systems gaining traction this year, Sailfish has the weakest backing. Firefox has Mozilla and a huge ecosystem of developers, plus it’s heading in a new direction: maxmizing server side funtions and minimizing what happens on the device.

Like Sailfish, Tizen and Ubuntu are Linux implementations. But Samsung and Intel are behind Tizen, which means it’ll have enough resources to even out any bumps in the business plan. Ubuntu is a core Linux player, and there’s every reason to think it can maintain its default distro position as mobile processing power grows to the point where Linux “just works.”

Jolla and Sailfish are long shots. Not quite dead on arrival, but they’ll need to put something truly amazing on the table to survive.