Jolla's $12m lifeline will help push 'secure' Android rival Sailfish OS

Cash-strapped Finnish mobile OS maker Jolla has secured $12m in financing to press ahead with licensing the Linux-based Sailfish OS.

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Jolla's main business now will depend on licensing Sailfish OS, rather than selling the ill-fated Jolla tablet.

Image: Jolla

Finnish mobile startup Jolla, the maker of Sailfish OS, has secured $12m in funding which should keep the firm afloat until the end of the year.

The company announced the new round today, which will alleviate some of the financial troubles that have caused it to abandon the Jolla tablet, lay off staff, and apply for debt restructuring in Finland. The company split its hardware and software businesses last July.

Jolla's main business now will depend on licensing Sailfish OS, which it built from the remnants of Nokia's old MeeGo OS. Thanks to the new funding, Jolla said it is recruiting new developers.

Jolla chairman Antti Saarnio told ZDNet the company is looking to hire another 10 developers, bringing its headcount to 50, or roughly half of the 100 it had before filing for debt restructuring.

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"This investment is sufficient to run our operations until the end of this year. We're also in the planning phase for our further financing rounds. Now we can put all focus on further improving our main asset, Sailfish OS," said Saarnio in a statement.

Jolla has licensed Sailfish OS to Indian firm Intex Technologies for its Aqua Fish phone, and Turing Robotics Industries' for its forthcoming device, the privacy- and security-focused Turing Phone.

Both these products are set to reach customers in the coming months and will test the viability of Sailfish OS as an alternative to Android that's open to third-party device makers.

In a recent interview with ZDNet, Turing Robotics Industries CEO Steve Chao said with the current hardware specs of the Turing, Sailfish OS is "running extremely fast" and that he is looking to the OS as an avenue to build its own ecosystem.

Android 5.1 was originally slated to run on the Turing Phone. However, in February TRI announced it had switched to Sailfish OS and set up shop in Salo at an old Nokia facility.

Sailfish OS can run Android apps, but users of Jolla's hardware have needed to install apps from outside Google Play. Chao said the Turing Phone will be able to install apps from Google Play and that he is not concerned that moving to a lesser-known OS will alienate future customers.

"Our selling point and competitive edge isn't around how many apps you can support. The stability [of Sailfish OS] will be improved over time," Chao said.

Another opportunity opening up to Jolla are government agencies, which according to Saarnio, are looking for an alternative Android for data-security reasons.

"We have been working with different governments to provide government solutions for mobile devices," he said.

"The problem for governments and people working with governments is that the Android system is distributing sensitive data outside the country. That's the reason several governments have been in contact with us and are interested in using Sailfish OS rather than Android."

Saarnio couldn't say which governments had contacted it, although Jolla was in talks with the Russian government last year about developing an open alternative to Android.

The other problem that Jolla is still working through is refunds for the Jolla tablet. It only shipped a few hundred tablets and opted to refund most backers. However, refunds were contingent on its finances.

The new funding will allow Jolla plans to begin the first of two refund rounds. It expects to complete the first found in April and May 2016, followed by a second round to be completed within a year.

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