Here Comes Jolla, Yet Another Deviant Linux Smartphone

Meet Jolla, the smartphone that almost never came to be.

When Nokia decided to jump off its burning platform a few years ago and go with Windows Phone, there were no people more disappointed with the decision than the hundreds of engineers that had been working on the company’s own mobile operating system, MeeGo.

These were developers that had put in countless hours to make MeeGo the platform of the future and the initial results were intriguing. The Nokia N9 was a beautiful phone (its core design would eventually be the basis of the first Nokia Windows Phone, the Lumia 800) with interesting functionality that, at the time, bested Android in utility. When Nokia scrapped MeeGo, these developers were out of a job and, worse, had the rug pulled out from under a beloved project.

So, they banded together to keep the project going. And the result is Jolla, a smartphone from Finland running an operating system called Sailfish, born on the legacy of MeeGo.

What Is Jolla?

Pronounced “yo-la,” Jolla as a company is the continuation of the “Mer” project. The Mer project was initially a fork from the Linux-based MeeGo designed to bring as much of the old Maemo operating system (MeeGo was formed as a conglomeration between two operating systems, Maemo and Moblin) to Nokia’s hardware as possible. Mer was eventually suspended when most of the development resources started going to MeeGo.

When Nokia dropped support for MeeGo, the Mer project was resurrected. It was intended to provide a new environment for the many developers and engineers who had worked on the open-source project, from Nokia or elsewhere. MeeGo itself morphed when it was began being supported by the likes of the Linux Foundation (backed by Intel and Samsung among others) and became Tizen

These old Maemo engineers just won’t admit defeat to their original dream and just realize that MeeGo/Maemo is, for all intents and purposes, dead. So now we have Jolla and a prototype smartphone searching for an audience.

The Jolla Smartphone

The first Jolla smartphone is a 4.5-inch, dual-core, 4G LTE enabled device with 16GB of internal storage and a replaceable battery. It runs the gesture-based Sailfish OS which, presumably, will operate a lot like the old Nokia N9 based on MeeGo Harmattan. 

Jolla is now available for pre-order and will be shipped first to European countries. The price tag is a reasonable €399 and Jolla expects to begin shipping by the end of 2013. Basically, Jolla is now asking people to support the project through pre-orders in a very Kickstarter-like fashion, imploring the community to get behind the project, or “The Tribe,” as Jolla co-founder Marc Dillon describes it. 

Based on Linux, Sailfish OS will be compliant with Android apps. This will allow Sailfish OS developers (the very small handful that currently exist) to port Android apps to Jolla, much in the same way that BlackBerry developers can port Android package files (APKs) to BlackBerry 10. 

The Drawback Of Open Source Democratization

Developers often complain that Android is a fragmented ecosystem. Too many different CPUs on different screen sizes from different manufacturers to make sense of it all. Yet, if you compare Android to what happened to the MeeGo community, Google’s mobile operating system seems tame.

Android always had a champion in Google to keep it on point. This contrasts with the Maemo/Moblin/MeeGo/Tizen/Jolla community that has had so many competing interests and egos that development has never really produced anything tangible other than a few interesting prototypes (like the Nokia N9 and now Jolla).

The Jolla group is essentially the most disillusioned of them all. Some have also called them the most creative and innovative while also being the most stubborn and arrogant. And now this team, finally, has what it wants – its own company and smartphone.