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.
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.
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.