Two companies which rose from the ashes of Nokia's pre-Windows device business may end up head-to-head in bringing new handsets to market. Jolla, which was formed by former Nokia engineers and uses the Finnish firm's MeeGo software, has shipped the first smartphone running its Sailfish operating system. And another start-up, Newkia, has appointed a CEO and says it is racing towards deployment of its first handset.
Jolla said it sold out of the first production batches of its smartphone and that this signifies a consumer desire for an alternative to Android and iOS. Of course, the company is talking about tens of thousands of devices, not millions like Apple, and there was little sign of the Chinese distribution deals it promised earlier this year, as it made its official debut in Helsinki.
But this is only a starting point – the handset is a reference design to stir up consumer and developer interest, but the business model is to license the software to OEMs, going up against other emerging alternatives to Google, such as Firefox Mobile and Tizen. Despite the crowded field, Jolla has scored a high profile in recent months, with what chairman and co-founder Antti Saarnio calls “our idealistic views on how we believe the mobile phone should be.”
He told Bloomberg: “With our own phone and our partners' phones combined, we're expecting to sell millions of phones.” The first model costs €399 ($543) without subsidies, and Jolla said the firm had received pre-orders from 136 countries. It will start selling the devices in China, which has been the main focus of its partner plans, next year.
The Sailfish OS – like Samsung-backed Tizen – is based on MeeGo, the mobile Linux platform that Nokia co-developed with Intel before throwing in its lot with Microsoft's Windows Phone. Sailfish has a distinctive user interface with functions largely controlled by two simple gestures – pushing from the edge of the screen and from the center of the screen – rather than buttons.
Last week, Jolla announced a deal with Russian Android app store Yandex to enable users to access a wider base of applications while it builds up its own software base. These will run via Myriad's Alien Dalvik software, which allows Android apps to run unchanged on other platforms.
China will be the important frontier, because of its size and hostility to Google, and a smartphone market which has not yet coalesced around a certain platform. One of Jolla's largest investors is Hong Kong-based Express Fortune, which bought a 6.25% stake for €1 million in February, and Jolla has been working on alliances with local distributors and handset makers.
More interesting, it has also been talking to e-commerce partners like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent , according to reports, about providing them with an OS on which to build their own mobile services and stores. That is one way that new operating systems may gain a role in future, by providing an optimized and embedded platform for rich service providers, rather than appealing directly to consumers. “Sailfish is a platform other players can drop their services on,” Saarnio said. “That's why we exist, basically.”
However, Alibaba and Baidu have their own mobile platform efforts too, and Jolla will be fighting for a place in a rapidly evolving and crowded Chinese software space.
Meanwhile Newkia, a Singapore-based firm set up by former Nokia people, has appointed
Urpo Karjalainen - himself a former executive at Nokia as well as BlackBerry - as CEO. He has also been named as a shareholder and founding partner.
Karjalainen was previously a head of Nokia China and VP of strategic marketing for Asia-Pacific for the firm, and was described by Newkia's chairman, Thomas Zilliacus, as the “most accomplished mobile executive in Asia over the last 15 years ... Under Urpo's leadership, Asia became Nokia's largest and most profitable market. No other mobile executive in Asia has the contacts, reach, and credibility among Asia's mobile operators, distributors, and dealers.”
Zilliacus – also a former Asia chief at Nokia - told ZDnet that Newkias goal was to harness Nokia knowhow, but to make Android devices. He was one of the people who thought the Finnish giant would have done better to partner with Google than Microsoft. He is also executive chairman and founder of Mobile FutureWorks, which is the majority owner of the new start-up.
Karjalainen said: “I see a huge opportunity for Newkia in the current market, and I am very excited to be part of creating something new built on Nokia's incredible legacy. We are building a team that will carry forward the best knowhow and qualities of phones that made Nokia the world leading mobile phone brand for 14 years.”