Jolla has released its first batch of Sailfish OS-powered smartphones. What will this mean for Android?
Loyal Nokia fans cried foul when the Finnish mobile phone maker suddenly jumped on the Windows Phone bandwagon (if there is one, at all), thereby abandoning its own Symbian platform, which had powered Nokia smartphones for so long. According to then-CEO Stephen Elop, it was an effort to jump the burning platform, so to speak. It was brutally honest: Symbian — and even its evolved form MeeGo — was fast being overtaken by iOS and Android as mobile platforms.
Nokia has since moved on to become the leading brand in Windows Phone. While the platform’s market share is nothing to write home about, it is a contender for the so-called third ecosystem, in competition with the declining BlackBerry platform. It does matter that Nokia makes great hardware (as is in the tradition of Nokia), such that its mobile division has been acquired by Microsoft, and will be integrated into the Redmond firm.
Now some stalwarts of the old days obviously disagree, which is exemplified by Jolla, a startup company founded by a former Nokia employees, in the aim of continuing where the MeeGo-powered Nokia N9 supposedly left off. The result is the Jolla phone, powered by the new Sailfish OS (likewise based on Symbian underpinnings), which touts efficient resource use in mobile and embedded devices, and further highlights a proprietary and real-time multi-tasking interface.
Perhaps the best thing about Sailfish OS is that it will be able to run Android applications!
Cross-platform support for Android apps is not exactly new. For instance, about 20 percent of BlackBerry 10 apps are actually repackaged Android apps. Additionally, BlackBerry has announced that an upcoming update to BB10 will include native support for Android applications. For app developers, this will mean one less platform to worry about. For users, this means wider availability of apps.
Perhaps the greater benefit here is for the owner of the platform. An application marketplace, after all, can make or break a platform. The first-generation iPhone was already a coveted device when it launched. But it was support for third-party apps and an app marketplace that catapulted iOS to prominence. It was the same with Android. Today, the size, profitability and quality of the two major platforms’ app marketplace are oft-compared. Apps seem to be the killer app, of the smartphone industry.
The benefits here are four-fold:
- Platform owner: Android app support gives Jolla an easy access to an existing collection of apps, which means it does not have to convince developers to port their apps or develop applications from scratch.
- Users: Jolla and Sailfish OS give users an additional choice for their smartphone needs. While Jolla is likely to be a niche device, device buyers have another potential brand outside of the usual choices (Apple, Samsung, Nokia, et al).
- Developers: Android app support in Sailfish OS gives developers a bigger potential audience. This also means a bigger potential source of revenue, although developers would not be able to enjoy receiving premium or freemium payments via the Google Play Store. Jolla has partnered with Yandex for easy access to an Android app marketplace, however.
- Android. The Android ecosystem, as a whole, benefits from this compatibility, which effectively turns Android apps into a de facto application platform across different platforms and OSes.
For Jolla to launch its operating system with full support for Android apps means it wants the convenience of being able to run both native Sailfish applications, while also gaining access to the hundreds of thousands of Android apps already available. This certainly is an advantage, because Jolla may not necessarily have the influence nor resources to launch its own full-scale marketplace. Why reinvent the wheel, after all?
Jolla is not alone, of course. There are other OSes that will highlight their support for Android apps, and some are actually forks of Android. These include the likes of Xiaomi, which itself has both a cult and popular following in China and elsewhere. Jolla would have to differentiate itself by giving some value added — in this case affordable mid-range devices that actually hold their own against flagship models from other companies.
Does Jolla and its Sailfish OS add value to Android as an ecosystem? Yes. The new platform improves on the general-purpose nature of Android apps. While Jolla is currently positioned as a niche player and may not necessarily have sales figures like Samsung, LG, HTC or Motorola, the value here is choice. As for device builders, it’s easy enough for a manufacturer to simply choose Android as their default go-to platform when building phones. Perhaps Sailfish OS may become a good alternative in the future, for either manufacturer or the end-user, much like how CyanogenMod is positioning itself as a viable replacement ROM for stock Android installations.