Tag Archives: sailfish

Huawei’s U.S. troubles jumpstart push for new mobile operating systems

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei press conference ces 5jan2019

With the impact of a U.S. trading ban growing, Huawei launched its own operating system, initially aimed at Internet of Things devices but with the potential to compete with Android in the mobile phone ecosystem. Branded HarmonyOS (and called Hongmeng in China) it is designed to be lightweight and very secure. Huawei isn’t installing it in its smart phones, but that could change.

A deep dive into Huawei’s relationship with Google by The Information’s Juro Osawa highlights how Chinese companies have flirted with developing independent operating systems, but ultimately backed away from investing in a risky corporate strategy that could find no executive champions…

In 2016, a top Huawei executive passed on an opportunity to partner with the maker of an Android alternative called Sailfish, seeing little need for a Plan B…

After the meeting, [Huawei consumer division chief Richard] Yu didn’t follow up on the idea of working with Jolla. He showed little interest in an alliance with another maker of operating systems.

But even though interest in reducing dependence on operating systems controlled by foreign companies is now coming from the Chinese government, according to Osawa’s article, Huawei didn’t take the threat seriously…

“In China, companies that supply products to the government are under growing pressure to use domestic software as well as hardware,” said Canalys analyst Nicole Peng. “Major Chinese tech companies like Huawei are feeling obliged to develop their own homegrown operating systems.”

Huawei’s renewed effort to develop its own OS was halfhearted, prompted in part by the company’s need to conform to Beijing’s homegrown software push…few executives viewed it as an Android replacement because the chances of Google ending its work with the Chinese company seemed remote.

Huawei lost that bet, and is now trying to play catch up. The result could a further isolation of technology and online services behind national firewalls. Or it might be the impetus the industry needs to finally break out of operating system architectures that were drafted nearly fifty years ago.

Cutting off Huawei could kill it, or kill tech monopolies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei press conference ces 6jan2014

Conventional wisdom is that Huawei can’t survive without access to U.S. technology. It was cut off from access to U.S. customers and vendors last week, although the toughest sanctions were delayed for three months earlier this week. If and when those sanctions take full effect, two companies – ARM and Google – say they’ll stop selling Huawei licenses to use two essential building blocks of the mobile industry – ARM’s chip designs and Google’s Android ecosystem. Huawei could be cutoff from similarly essential technology in other industry segments, for example the Windows operating system.

It’s dangerous to assume, however, that any company, let alone one as big and ambitious and well supported as Huawei will just roll over die. The company has said it’s kept a Plan B on the back burner for several years, which require it to launch its own operating system, to replace Android and Windows, and develop advanced chip technology in house.

There’s a lot of skepticism about a Huawei OS. The assumption is that it would be based on the open source bits of Android, but wouldn’t be able to gain any more uptake than past alternate mobile OS attempts, such as Tizen, Firefox or Sailfish. The counter argument is that the Chinese market is already semi-isolated from the global app and service ecosystem. If Huawei gets developer support and user adoption on its home turf – not a far out possibility – it could become the mythical third mobile OS that so many competitors – Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Canonical, Mozilla, [Blackberry] –(https://www.tellusventure.com/blog/blackberry-shares-the-big-one-with-the-cops/) have failed to capture.

Chipsets are a tougher problem, but there could be hardware workarounds, according to a TechRepublic article by James Sanders

In terms of hardware, Huawei is far from self-sufficient. Their HiSilicon division licenses the Arm ISA for use in Kirin smartphone SoCs and Kunpeng server CPUs. HiSilicon already possesses the requisite information to manufacture chips based on the technology, and they can continue to design ARMv8-powered chips without the involvement of Arm Holdings, which has cut ties with Huawei. The actual production of these is handled by TSMC, which is one of the few organizations continuing work with Huawei…

There are still options for Huawei…Samsung, LG, and BOE are potential vendors for displays, and Sony and Leica can provide lenses and sensors for cameras. Flash storage and RAM may be an issue, as Toshiba and Micron are used, though SK Hynix provides RAM on some devices, and Samsung can likewise supply both.

It’s too soon to know with any degree of certainty how this battle in the U.S.-China trade war will play out. It could just be another round of brinkmanship, and president Donald Trump has all but admitted that’s what this is all about. But if it isn’t, the result could be a global scale competitor to some cherished de facto technology monopolies, which are either based in the U.S. or dependent on intellectual property that’s rooted here. That would be good for the market, but it’s not exactly what the Trump administration has in mind.

Mobile OS security gains strength as a selling proposition

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

They mind their own business.

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.

But it didn’t buy everything and the Finnish engineers who stayed behind started a new company, Jolla, and kept working on it. And now they’ve found a big customer in the Russian government. According to a press release from Jolla

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.

Security and simplicity keep Sailfish, Tizen hopes alive

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Just enough to start the day.

Two alternative, Linux-based smart phone operating systems are still in the game, but might be headed towards greener markets. Version 3.0 of the Tizen OS is due out in September and the Sailfish OS has a new, $12 million lifeline.

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.

It’s harder to see where Sailfish is heading, or even why anyone would want to invest in its parent company, Jolla. A plan to make and sell a tablet fizzled out, and its only ray of hope is Turing Robotics’ decision to move from California to Finland and switch to Sailfish, seeking to leverage tougher privacy laws into a high security selling proposition. But given the increasingly heated battle between tech companies and the U.S. government, and Blackberry’s willingness to hand over encryption keys to Canadian authorities, there might be a market opening for Turing and Jolla.

HTML5 pace set by carrier dog days, not developer dog years

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Puppies for a while longer.

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.

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.