Finnish smartphone startup Jolla lifted the lid on its first Sailfish OS device, also named Jolla, this week. While all eyes are on the progress it's making on its hardware, little is being said about the ecosystem it must grow to support it.
Jolla is just one of a number of new entrants into the mobile market, joining the likes of Canonical with Ubuntu, Mozilla with Firefox OS and the formidable Tizen Association in hoping to steal a slice of the burgeoning smartphone market with an alternative OS.
Like its fellow upstarts, Jolla hopes to get its first device into consumers' hands at some point this year, after it opened up pre-orders to the public this week.
Jolla fans can now pay a €100 (£85) down-payment, which will fix the total price of the device at €399 when it finally reaches consumers (Jolla says it's "targeting" the end of the year for the hardware's release.) At the minute, the operators that will carry the device haven't been announced and it's not known at what price they, or Jolla, will sell the phone for in future.
"We only guarantee that price during the pre-order campaign," Jolla's newly-appointed CEO, Tomi Pienimäki, told ZDNet earlier this week. He said what little was known about the specs could change too.
For a startup like Jolla to produce a smartphone with a slick OS and a novel concept in the OtherHalf – a UI-changing backplate – within two years is a major feat. But Jolla is trying not just to build an appealing device, but an ecosystem that others can join and build upon.
Its China-focused Sailfish Alliance was announced in October last year. Jolla said at the time that it was opening a space in Hong Kong’s Cyberport facility for alliance members to collaborate on the development of Sailfish OS devices. The OS was expected to be ready to license to alliance members by spring 2013.
According to Pienimäki, the effort that has gone into delivering the device itself has distracted it from the much less exciting, but no less important, business of developing the Sailfish Alliance.
When asked whether any new members had joined the alliance, Pienimäki said: "No, I have to admit that we have been so focussed now on releasing the phone that we haven’t had time. We have had discussions with a number of parties, but nothing that we can publish at the moment."
Current alliance members include: ST-Ericsson; Finnish mobile network DNA; Digia, which develops the Qt application framework for Sailfish applications; Chinese retailer D.Phone; and others. However, its member roster still looks light compared to other ecosystems in the mobile space, with just one operator and no other OEMs announced.
Like Jolla, Mozilla has Firefox OS devices out there in the form of its Keon and Peak handsets, but they are "strictly" for developers, as a Mozilla PR highlighted to ZDNet recently. Telefonica-backed Geeksphone will be making the hardware; Telefonica is one of the 18 carriers that has offer support to Mozilla’s open web platform while devices are planned from Alcatel One Touch, LG, ZTE, and Huawei.
The Tizen Association has the backing of Samsung, Intel, Huawei and several carriers including Vodafone, Orange and Japanese incumbent NTT DoCoMo. Samsung has said it will release a "high end" device by the third quarter of this year.
Canonical has released the developer preview of its Ubuntu Touch OS, but it’s avoiding the gargantuan task of creating its own hardware by leaning on Google's Nexus devices to reach developers.
Jolla meanwhile has made much of its potential in China due the hunger there to build something different to Android.
"With the main ecosystem companies — the duopoly as some call it — there's very little opportunity for an operator to create a deeply integrated service in those operating systems," Marc Dillon, then CEO of the company, told ZDNet last year.
Jolla's very early distribution deal with Chinese retailer D.Phone could kickstart its life there, but without more local partners building a Sailfish device, it's still unclear how Jolla will make China work for it.
And the eponymous device that Jolla announced this week is probably not the one going to China. That, said Pienimäki, "depends on quite a few commercial and legal things".