A reason for Sailfish’s existence, and perhaps even for the $12 million investment it received earlier this year is becoming clearer. It’s an alternative mobile operating system – a competitor to Android and iOS – that arose from the ashes of Nokia’s MeeGo operating system, which was scrapped when Microsoft bought the company.
Sami Pienimaki, CEO of Jolla Ltd. comments: “Sailfish OS development in Russia is an important part of Jolla’s wider agenda, aiming to power various countries’ mobile ecosystems. Our solution is based on open source code and contribution models with partners, which makes it possible to ramp up local systems effectively in 6 months. We have now done this in Russia with a local partner and using this experience we are looking forward to ramping up similar projects in other countries.”
In Russia, Sailfish OS is the only mobile operating system, which has been officially accepted to be used in governmental and government controlled corporations’ upcoming mobile device projects.
Customers in China and South Africa – two other countries that don’t put complete trust in the developed world’s good intentions – are also reported to be giving Sailfish a close look.
Sailfish’s selling proposition is security, and it makes good on that promise in a couple different ways. First, it’s open source, which means anyone who installs it can inspect the code for bugs and gain a level of confidence that there are no backdoors or otherwise compromised encryption systems, as with the Blackberry OS or as the U.S. government seeks for iOS and Android.
Second, Finland has strong privacy laws. It’s why Turing Robotics, a tiny mobile phone maker that also aims for the security minded side of the market, moved its mobile phone operations there from California.
Tizen is an open source project that’s largely driven by Samsung. It started out as an alternative to Android and a replacement for Bada, Samsung’s previous in-house OS. So far, it hasn’t found much traction in the mobile phone market, despite Samsung’s dominance of that sector. A couple of Samsung smart phones with Tizen installed shipped to India, but so far haven’t done very well.
On the other hand, Samsung is installing Tizen on its Gear smart watch, as well as smart TVs and other consumer electronics products that are less dependent on the good will of independent app developers. The 3.0 upgrade is pitched as “IoT ready”, according to an article in PC World with support for “refrigerators, light bulbs, washing machines, and even vacuum cleaners”. It could evolve into the OS of choice for connected devices, which are more or less self-contained and don’t need third party apps or services.
So long as it has a sugar daddy with deep pockets and a clear business case, the Tizen project will push ahead and its adoption rate will continue to grow, even if it’s just within the Samsung universe.
The Firefox OS is built to run thin client HTML5 applications, which depend heavily on network connections to store data and offload processing. So far, the available applications are a promising mixed bag, at least judging by performance on the first readily available Firefox phone, the ZTE Open.
Both the Facebook and, particularly, the Twitter apps are consumer-ready, but most of the other available apps are little more than browser bookmarks that take you to a website. The included email and calendar apps work well with both Google and Apple services, and deliver a smooth user experience. The address book, though, needs a lot of help. It’ll only sync with Google contacts and it’s not well integrated with the phone – dialling directly from a contact is a clunky chore and it’s difficult to, for example, reply quickly to a phone call with a text message.
Mozilla is just one of the companies betting that HTML5 will fullfil its promise of “write once, run everywhere” apps. Tizen and Sailfish are also counting on a spontaneous wellspring of developer support as the language matures, although both of these Nokia MeeGo-descended OSes are also hoping to grow proprietary ecosystems. Jolla released its SDK for the Sailfish OS earlier this week, with a heavy emphasis on its support for Android applications.
The challenge for HTML5 developers is to find a proper balance of on-board functions and network services. Achieving acceptable performance depends on the speed of mobile broadband connections, so the speed of development will be governed, to a large degree, by the upgrade plans of carriers. With other alternative OSes available, developers might not want to wait.
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.