Russia plans to leave Apple, Android behind by building its own smartphone software

The Kremlin wants to use smartphone technology it can trust -- by cracking open an alternative's source code.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
A Jolla smartphone running the latest Sailfish OS
(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Russia wants to create its own smartphone operating system in an effort to reduce its dependence on Western technology.

Russian minister of communications Nikolai Nikiforo announced plans to replace Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms with new software based on Sailfish, an open-source mobile operating system, developed by Finland phone maker Jolla.

Jolla staff met with members of the Russian technology community earlier this month to break ground on the new software.

Nikiforo said he wants the country to reduce its dependence on foreign technology over the next ten years to 50 percent of the country's market share, down from 95 percent today, according to Russian daily newspaper RBC.

It comes at a time where Russia is pushing for industry independence away from Western technology, in part because it's facing increasing sanctions over its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

But also, Russia wants smartphone software that it knows it can trust -- by developing it in-house -- that cannot be tainted by clandestine operations by the US National Security Agency.

A year ago, Apple and German software maker SAP refused to disclose their source code to the government when requested by Nikiforo. (It was to determine if the US government had included any backdoors or security flaws, which documents leaked by Edward Snowden have purported to show.)

With few options left, Russia decided to build its own smartphone system to compete on the world stage.

Sailfish currently has 0.5 percent of the Russian market share, according to latest figures -- below Microsoft and BlackBerry's mobile operating systems. But the software shows promise in the country as the only fully open-source mobile software on the market.

Nikiforov said the software's success will depend on how well it's received by end users and device makers in the country. Russia has already begun paying local developers to migrate their popular apps to Sailfish.

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