The one thing that should intrigue app developers about Jolla

Editor's Corner

Shane Schick

Developers would be within their rights to ask the people behind Jolla this question: Does the world really need another smartphone and mobile OS alternative?

The launch of Jolla's eponymous device and the Sailfish operating system a few weeks ago may not have had anywhere near the splash of a new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy unveiling, but it may still be worth watching, for a number of reasons. Jolla is both a new entrant into this space and at the same time the reincarnation of several traditional figures in the smartphone history. The firm was founded by several former Nokia employees, for instance, and Sailfish is in some ways the successor to MeeGo, the platform Nokia abandoned in favor of Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system. It is both a startup with deep open source roots and mainstream ambitions.

In leading up to the launch, I was most struck by a comment Jolla chief executive Jussi Hurmola made on GigaOm about how the company will differentiate itself: 

"We want to get away from that [standard user experience of] opening and closing applications," Hurmola said. "That is a five-year-old design pattern and user experience. We want to go further. They're pretty individualistic machines these days, smartphones. We want to be the phone that handles messaging, calendars and so on in an inclusive way, so you can have concepts like the family in the device."

Now that the Jolla smartphone is out, developers can begin getting a better sense of what he was talking about. For instance, while the gadget sports essentially the same hardware as most other smartphones on the market, the company is pushing an innovative concept it calls "The Other Half." This is a series of "smart covers" that can be attached to the phone for specific use cases, like turning Jolla into a solar charger, a keyboard or a camera sensor.

At a time when developers are grappling with how to cash in on the move to wearable computing, Jolla's Other Half concept offers some inspiring ideas on how the basic metaphor of a smartphone can be extended. Of course, if any of the use cases being bandied about for Jolla become at all successful, you can expect Google, Samsung, Apple and others to move quickly in offering something similar. 

This, in fact, could be the primary value that Jolla provides. The company may never challenge the market's global leaders, but it could grow into a sort of public laboratory where new concepts in mobile experimentation are tested out. Or Jolla could defy the odds and become a true contender among consumers worldwide. Either way, developers could benefit from the kind of disruption Jolla is hoping to create. --Shane