Jolla's Sailfish OS-powered "Jolla Phone" is overpriced though, so its success in India is in jeopardy

Mobile operating systems are kind of like comic book heros or horror movie villains -- just when you think they're gone for good, they come back with a new bag of tricks.  Thus is the case of Sailfish OS, a challenger that's on the verge of launching a high volume product to the burgeoning Indian market.
I. Fresh Blood on a New Market
The Chinese and Indian markets are in some ways similar.  Both countries have an emerging array of domestic OEMs, growing numbers of expert engineers, and large blue-collar manufacturing bases.  But while the Interactive Data Corp. (IDC) reported 351 million smartphones were sold in China (population: 1.35 billion) in 2013, only 44 million were sold in India (population: 1.21 billion).
In a way that's good news for phonemakers, as they still have one gigantic market to conquer.  Sales in India are forecast to nearly double in 2014 to 80.57 million, only slightly off the pace of 2012 to 2013 when sales in India nearly tripled from 16.2 million smartphones in 2012.  
Privately held Jolla, Ltd. is eager to cash in on the Indian market.
It traces back to the defunct Maemo project.  But it's been a strange and bewildering ride of renames and near death for Jolla's OS -- now branded Sailfish OS.
II. In the Beginning, There Was Maemo
In 2005-2006 Symbian was the king of the smartphone, but Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V) decided to try a different take for its internet tablet OS.  Instead of a proprietary OS design like Symbian it instead opted to create a Linux based mobile OS -- similar to Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android.
A few years later, in 2009, the latest build -- Maemo 5 ("Fremantle") -- was selected to power the slick N900 smartphone.  

Maemo 5 in action on the Nokia N810 phablet

By then Nokia's Symbian was struggling.  Maemo was viewed as a potential hope and it won some fans.  But just as it appeared to be Maemo's time to shine, it received an abrupt rebranding.

Elsewhere around this time, Intel Corp. (INTC) had been working on Atom -- a low-power Pentium processor for mobile internet devices (MIDs).  Intel reached out to Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) to provide strong operating system support for the project.  But in an early sign that the "WinTel" partnership was coming to a close, Intel in 2007 decided to step up an experimental mobile Linux (mob + lin) project, Moblin, after it became quickly disillusioned with builds of Windows Vista (which would launch Jan. 2007).  Windows Vista would reportedly struggle to run three applications at once on Atom; lean Linux builds could run as many as 10 processes without noticeable lag.

Intel's Software Tools Group's chief evangelist, Jason Reinders, described theses issues in 2010, stating to TechRadar:

Microsoft hasn't been quite as aggressive as we might have hoped at supporting Atom, especially in the embedded space and that's why we came up with our platform Moblin...  Some of their Windows offerings are great now, but Moblin started a number of years ago when we didn't see Windows in that space at all. We're thrilled to death to see user mode scheduling in Windows 7 but the progress of Windows 7 still limited - it doesn't go all the places we think Atom will go.

But Intel struggled to sell OEMs on Moblin.  Most just used Windows XP.  Even those who did use Moblin -- such as ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357) which sold its popular EeePC with Xandros Linux (a Moblin v2-derived distribution) -- also offered Windows XP variants, and invariably customers embraced the familiar solution (XP), snubbing the foreign Linux mobiles.

So Intel decided to partner up with Nokia.  In 2009 the pair announced a general collaboration and in Feb. 2010 they announced the fruits union at the Mobile World Congress (MWC).  Combining Moblin and Maemo, the pair launched a platform they called "MeeGo".  But first there was a quasi-MeeGo -- the semi-merged Maemo 6 ("Harmattan") build, which in June 2011 launched on the Nokia N9.
III. Meego Betrayed
But the young union was betrayed almost before it really even got started.  Panicking at losing market share to the increasingly popular Android OS and Apple's iOS, Nokia made a bold move.  In Sept. 2010 Nokia appointed formed Microsoft Office manager Stephen Elop as its CEO.  Despite denials that he was a "Trojan horse" for Microsoft, Mr. Elop quickly steered Nokia towards his former employer.
In Feb. 2011 he blasted Symbian in his infamous "burning platform" memo, pinning the blame for slipping market share on the venerable, but aging proprietary OS.  The speech also disparaged the apparent open source heir, MeeGo, commenting:

We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

Two days later -- and roughly a year after first announcing MeeGo -- Nokia announced that it would put MeeGo on a back burner and transition its smartphone line from Symbian to Windows Phone.  Indeed, it would release only one MeeGo smartphone -- the sleek Nokia N9 -- before fully pulling out of the project.

Nokia N9
Stuck with the lovechild of its union with Nokia, Intel promised to make the best of it.  Intel CEO Paul Otellini graciously did not begrudge Nokia for seeking a new partner, commenting:
I wouldn't have made the decision he made, I would probably have gone to Android if I were him.  MeeGo would have been the best strategy but he concluded he couldn't afford it.  [Still the] carriers still want a third ecosystem and the carriers want an open ecosystem, and that's the thing that drives our motivation.
But Intel failed to find new third-party allies for the platform in its current form.  So in Sept. 2011, just about a year and a half after MeeGo launched, Intel ceased its role on the project, instead partnering with Android's top power Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935), who was looking to "play the field" so to speak.  


Intel called the new project Tizen.  Backed by the Linux Master Group, it appeared that Tizen would spell the end for the MeeGo dream.
IV. Jolla OS -- Keeping the Flame Burning
Ironically, it was current and former Nokia employees who kept it alive.  Cofounded in mid-2011 by Jussi Hurmola (who would serve as CEO) and Marck Dillon (who would serve as COO), they launched Jolla OY, based in Ruoholahti, Helsinki, Finland.

Jolla company

Jolla CEO Jurmola
Jolla's first CEO Jussi Hurmola [Image Source: Jolla Users]

The new firm offered up Jolla OS, a OS that repurposed the MeeGo kernel and much of MeeGo's Mer UI layer. It stripped out proprietary bits, adding its own app API layer with the goal of supporting Android apps (via a compatibility layer), MeeGo apps, and Jolla OS apps.
Mer Project

Nokia didn't exactly give Jolla an extra helping hand.  Preferring to leave MeeGo dead, it refused to give it extra licensing and prohibited Jolla from supporting the N9 -- the only MeeGo device that would ever see release.  However, Jolla OS quickly saw promise thanks to a contract in mid-2012 with the D. Phone Group, China's largest retail chain.  It pledged to have a device ready with its new MeeGo-derived OS by the end of 2012.

Jolla CEO Dillon
Jolla CEO Marck Dillon took over in Oct. 2012 and headed the company until April 2013.
[Image Source: Jolla Users]
In Oct. 2012 Mr. Hurmola stepped down as CEO (as per a company rotation policy) and Mr. Dillon took the helm.  In Nov. 2012, it rebranded its Jolla OS as "Sailfish OS".
SailFish OS
Sailfish OS
 It demoed the renamed Jolla OS at the Slush conference in Finland.

Notably, the interface featured widgets and was much cleaner looking -- similar to recent Android builds -- than Maemo 6 Harmattan (and its short-lived Nokia MeeGo descendants).

Sailfish UI
Sailfish features a clean, sophisticated look, like recent builds of Android OS. [Image Source: Jolla Users]

Despite failing to launch a handset in 2012, Jolla managed to get its Sailfish SDK in presentable form by MWC 2013 where it flew largely under the radar.  It also was beginning to pop up on handsets following Nokia relenting on installation ban.  Meego or Maemo like the N9, N900, and N950 were the first unofficial Sailfish phones, suddenly.  Jolla also traded 6.25 percent of its shares to China Fortune Holdings, Ltd. (HKG:0110) for €1M ($1.35M USD).  Sticking to its strategy, in April 2013, it appointed yet another new CEO -- Tomi Pienimäki, a formal Finnish postal industry CEO.

Jolla CEO Pienimaki
Jolla's new CEO -- Tomi Pienimäki [Image Source: Jolla/Jolla Users]

In May 2013, at a special "Jolla LoveDay" event in Finland, the company announced its first phone (only slightly belated).

Jolla's device -- priced at €399 ($539 USD) debuted in Europe in rocky fashion in Dec. 2013.  

Jolla Phone

After shipping to pre-order customers in late November, Jolla was forced to apologize for missing shipping targets for "second wave" store customers.  While the interface was inspired, the hardware spec was rather dull, particularly the lowly quarter-HD (960 x 540 pixel) display on such an expensive device.
V. India Cometh, But Price Continues to Hold Jolla Back
Earlier this year Jolla offered up an Android-compatible version of Sailfish, which showed what it could perhaps do with better hardware.  Meanwhile, in June Jolla dropped the price of its "Jolla Phone" to €349 ($471 USD).
Jolla phone
"The Jolla Phone"
This week it announced that it was coming to India, via a direct sales deal with Snapdeal -- a 20 million-user e-commerce marketplace that is one of the largest in India.  The news was announced on Twitter.
CMO Sami Pienimäkiin says in a statement:

India is the rising smartphone market of the world.  We have received a tremendous amount of interest… to enter this great market.

Jolla will arguably need to trim its price if it wants to see strong sales in India. It has a beautiful interface and a pleasing handset design, but the hardware is relatively weak and there's a deluge of other Linux-based challengers (namely Tizen, Ubuntu Mobile, and Firefox OS).

Evolution of Maemo

Nokia represents perhaps one of the biggest threats to Jolla as it sells the Nokia X series and the Lumia 500/600 series for between $100-200 USD.  Despite Jolla's Phone being twice as expensive, its hardware is similar to the Windows Phones.  And that's not good.

Lumia 630
Nokia Lumia 630/635

Jolla will have to come up with a plan -- and fast, or its incredibly promising plan will go to waste.

Sources: Jolla [Twitter], [press release]

"Folks that want porn can buy an Android phone." -- Steve Jobs

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