With the smartphone OS market almost entirely sewn up between Google and Apple, what’s an alternative operating system maker to do? Take an interest in feature phones, that’s what.
Today Jolla, the Finnish maker of an Android alternative called Sailfish, has announced v3 of its platform. At a press conference at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona it’s announced what it describes as a “totally new segment” for the OS targeting the “new era of highly capable 4G feature phones”.
“What sets Sailfish OS apart from its competitors in the feature phone segment is the capability to do low-spec hardware configurations and still run selected Android apps,” said CEO Sami Pienimäki in a statement.
He also flagged up Sailfish’s ability to handle Voice over LTE — claiming the tech is “increasingly important for the new era” of feature phones
Jolla says Sailfish OS will “mature” to Sailfish 3 during Q3 this year, so today’s news is just a preview of what’s coming.
According to Gartner there were less than 1.5M non-Android, non-iOS smartphones sold in 2017, which it said amounts to a 0.1 per cent share of the global market — down from ~11.3M in 2016, when other OSes took a 0.8 per cent share. So the Sailfish maker’s interest in diversifying into old school mobile handsets isn’t as leftfield as it perhaps seems.
Earlier this month the analyst also reported a decline in global smartphone shipments in Q4 2017, the first time it’s reported the market shrinking since it began tracking it all the way back in 2004.
Feature phone owners staying with dumbphones rather than upgrading to a smartphone was one of the reasons cited to explain the drop in sales in the holiday quarter. Another analyst, IDC, has also reported featurephones growing their market share in Africa between 2016 and 2017.
There’s not yet a great deal of detail about what other new features are incoming for Jolla’s platform via Sailfish 3 but it said it will provide “full support for regional infrastructures including steady releases & OS upgrades; services to establish independent R&D centers; local hosting;
training; and a flexible feature set to support specific customer needs”.
Security is also a continued focus, with the Finnish firm touting “extended security features and options” — with the aim of making it “a solid option for various corporate solutions”.
Since shuttering its consumer hardware play, and focusing on a b2b (and business to government) mobile OS licensing business, Jolla has been winning friends in Russia — where its platform gained certification for corporate and government use back in 2016.
At last year’s MWC Russia OEM INOI announced the first Sailfish device for the market, with Jolla’s local licensee, Open Mobile Platform, trumpeting the smartphone as “absolutely Google-free!”
Here at MWC 2018, INOI has announced a new Sailfish-powered tablet, in both 8-inch and 10-inch size configurations, which is primarily targeted at Russian corporate customers.
Jolla said it will also be making Sailfish available for the new Sony XperiaTM XA2, also announced at the show, via the Sony Open Device Program. (Though individuals wanting to run Sailfish on that device will need to purchase a license via the Sailfish X program.)
Planet Computers’ crowdfunded Gemini PDA — a mobile device that packs a full size keyboard — is also being demoed running Sailfish here at the show, though again there’s no firm date on wider future availability for the OS’ device support.
Jolla added that Sailfish is now officially supported on more than a dozen devices, rising if you count community porting efforts.
At last year’s MWC Jolla announced inking a licensing agreement with a Chinese consortium which it said planned to invest $250M in developing a Sailfish ecosystem for the country.
Discussing this, a spokesman told us that a China pilot project was completed last year, adding that the first commercial products are expected to reach the market by the end of this year.
Last year Jolla’s chairman Antti Saarnio also said the business was expecting to become profitable in 2017. However Jolla’s spokesman told us that while the company made a profit in “several” months of the year, on a yearly level it remains dependent on “some investor money”.
It closed out its last tranche of funding, a $12M Series C round, in May 2016, after initially struggling to lock the funding down in time.
“With the solid customer projects we have in Latin America, Russia, and China the company will be profitable on a monthly level by the end of this year, and onwards,” he added.