One Finnish phone maker wants to reclaim the lost glory of another

One Finnish phone maker wants to reclaim the lost glory of another

Summary: It has an intriguing new OS, but needs to rethink its price points if it is to stand even a sliver of a chance in the fastest growing smartphone market in the world

Jolla one
Jolla is hoping to make waves in India like its Finnish predecessor Nokia once did

It would be a grandiose aspiration to think that Finnish smartphone maker Jolla (pronounced yolla) can assume the lofty perch that its brethren Nokia once did in India. Nokia was a goliath, at one point capturing over 70 percent of the market of phones in the country. Its entry level rugged-but-stylish feature phone with that indispensable flashlight was a universal favourite and the company etched itself into the collective memories of generations of early cell phone users in the country.

jolla sailfish
Jolla uses the Sailfish OS, a descendant of Nokia's discarded MeeGo

How the iconic Finnish company missed the bus on smartphones and watched its rock-solid future in the fastest growing phone market in the world evaporate is best left for a book on all-time greatest bungles in corporate history. What is the more interesting story today however is how another Finnish contender—Jolla, a company that shares over 90 percent of its DNA with Nokia—wants to succeed where its sister company didn't.

The decision to enter the hottest smartphone market in the world, dominated by Android devices, using an alien operating system and user interface could either be regarded as foolhardy or genius—only time will tell. Jolla is armed with the Sailfish OS, an extension of the Linus-based MeeGo system that Nokia deep-sixed when it decided to opt for Windows. The Nokia N9 was pretty much the beginning and the end of that effort, until now.

Jolla basically took that system with them when the company’s core team left Nokia to found the company. According to an interview with the Economic Times, co-founder and chief marketing officer Sami Pienimaki says that they were part of Nokia's Bridge program in which Nokia says it has invested 'tens of millions of Euros' to accommodate former employees’ ambitions of starting new companies or new jobs. Apparently 90 percent of Jolla’s employees have come from Nokia.


So, how does the phone size up?

Looking a little like a Sony Xperia, Jolla's two-tone split gives it a distinctive look. But the most unusual aspect of it is the Operating system and navigation approach. Here, your thumb is basically the home button and making your way around relies on various gestures including swipe ups and downs to see recent apps and notifications and swiping left and right to close the app you’re currently in — or partially close it if you stop the gesture half-way through. Double-tapping wakes the phone up from sleep and shows you your notifications.

In other words, users don't have to go deep to avail of an app. You can pause a call, play a tune and peek at your calendar easily from the phone's multitasking screen and it all seems refreshingly new.

jolla two
The phone has an unusual gesture-based navigation system

This novel UI could potentially attract users who are sick of Android (or Windows or iOS, although there aren’t so many of those around in India, especially the latter). The Sailfish OS also comes with a paltry number of  bare-bones apps so the company is allowing for platform compatibility via the Android App platform. It has a pre-loaded hub for Android apps on the phone called 'Yandex’s app store' that houses some 85,000 apps.

The question is, is sheer novelty good enough? It all depends on how much the phone will sell for in India. Right now, it is priced at around US$466 or Rs 28,000 on its website and for this relatively majestic sum you get a 1.4 Ghz dual-core processor, 1 GB RAM and 16 GB memory making the unit 'plodding' according to one review with a 8MP rear shooter that apparently 'lacks crisp clarity', and an underwhelming 4.5 inch 540 x 960 display.

India, as I've written previously, has been flooded by some remarkable phones that offer remarkable value propositions in just the last five months. One million Moto Gs were sold in this time span, and this model, for a mere US$200 looks like it could eat Jolla’s lunch. If that wasn't bad enough, the Moto G itself has been eclipsed by two stunners—the Asus Zenfone (which i wrote about here) and Xiaomi’s Mi3 (which i wrote about here), both which have taken India by storm. So, there's no point in discussing how it would perform against the similarly priced Nexus 5, the Samsung Galaxy 4 or the Moto X (which is a good US$100 cheaper).

In other words, the Jolla is a nice concept and something fresh and new for a market that’s always got room for something different. But the phone will be toast before it even gets there if it doesn’t figure out an attractive price point to lure Indian customers.

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Apps, Nokia, India

Rajiv Rao

About Rajiv Rao

Rajiv is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi who is interested in how new technologies, innovation, and disruptive business forces are shaking things up in India.

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  • I think we're about to find out...

    ...whether Stephen Elop's MS-centric approach really was the best one for Nokia to take.
    John L. Ries
    • We already know

      It failed dismally.
      • There are those who claim otherwise

        But the fact that all of them seem to be MS-boosters may or may not be relevant.
        John L. Ries
        • Elaboration

          The claim is that Nokia was already a sinking ship by the time Elop took over, that the deal with MS was the best way to save the company from bankruptcy, and that the subsequent nosedive was therefore not Elop's fault (can't really have a failure as a candidate for CEO of a Fortune 500 company, now can we?).
          John L. Ries
  • Jolla

    and its crew has some of the most interesting ideas of the whole phone market right now. Given how Sailfish OS it's either compatible and very outstanding im features and look it's really not possible to understand how no big player's not looking at them right now. Unfortunately they don't have yet the scale to produce afforbable phones but if they could get some big investor behind (some ventures firm) and get a deal like the BlackBerry-Foxconn one they might say one of the most interesting hi-tech stories of the coming future..
  • Interesting but to late...

    In my opinion they are some years to late for the market. I think Google/Android is to dominating now.
    Android One rolling out soon for the emerging markets etc..

    iPhone 6/iOS 8 are here soon to. The new OEM.s (around 18 beside Nokia) with Windows Phone 8.1 releasing their smartphones now in august.

    I think it will stand between Android and iOS in most cases. Possible as Microsoft as the third player. But even Microsoft have trouble in the market, and they have a lot of money.

    I not see a scenario how Jolla can be a succes with their limited resources. Even Tizen seems to give up now and their handset are cancelled/delayed one more time.