Jolla: A New Smartphone Startup In A Crowded Market

jolla mobiles  , ex employees of nokia

Made up of former Nokia employees, Jolla was a product of Nokia’s “Bridge” – the project to relocate employees whose roles at Nokia were eliminated by the decision to move away from MeeGo and from Symbian as a smartphone OS. Nokia has even opened up a number of patents to assist Jolla’s development of a recognizably Nokia-heritaged fork to the long-running mobile Linux project.

(UPDATE: It turns out that the Finnish source of this information may have assumed too much: Nokia has clarified that they were not transferring patents to this or any other Bridge beneficiaries. They may be licensing them, but are not commenting on that. So, it seems like that Jolla MeeGo will build largely on “stock” MeeGo. How much this will impact the user experience is at this point an open question – a lot would depend on the UI experience, which was always going to be Jolla’s own creation.)

The mainstream of that project is currently incarnated as Tizen, which released the source code for its 1.0 iteration – “Larkspur” at the end of April, along with a software development kit. However, Tizen has yet to appear on any purpose-built phones.

Jolla certainly has the MeeGo props – CEO Jussi Hurmola was Director of MeeGo Software integration and releases at Nokia, and COO Marc Dillon spend six years in Nokia, latterly as a principal engineer for Maemo and its successor Meego (via the hybrid Harmattan project). However, small companies and the huge infrastructures and economies of handset manufacture have often not been a happy combination. Project Openmoko, which was dedicated to producing a truly open Smartphone OS, backed out of phone hardware after the release of the FreeRunner in 2009.

Not only is phone hardware complex to make, but one is up against huge producers on the production side, and carriers on the distribution side who are already locked in a best-enemies relationship with those huge producers. It’s very hard for a small producer – unless it has the support of a serious corporations either through ownership or sponsorship – to make progress.

The other problem is that “MeeGo” covers a multitude of sins – it was envisioned as an operating system for netbooks, tablets, embedded devices and phones, each with their own usage patterns. Although the N9′s status as an open (for certain values of open) handset was important to many, the things which made people actually sigh when they used it were the industrial design – which has now found a home in a somewhat mediated form in the high-end Nokia Lumia Windows Phones – and the user interface.

There is little to say about the industrial design of phones that do not yet exist – Jolla wants to release two phones before the end of the year, one for the general audience and one for “the technical audience” – that is, tinkerers. But the N9′s user interface is Nokia proprietary, so it is reasonable to assume that, whatever UI finds it way onto Jolla devices, it will not be the Nokia UI.

UPDATE: Jolla have responded, comfirming that the new UI will be Jolla-developed :

"Yes, you are right – Jolla is working on its own UI. We aim to bring something new and exciting to the user experience. We are planning to release more information about the UI together with our device launch later this year".

This is intriguing – both WebOS and Windows Phone have sought to subvert the basic post-iPhone UI model, and the market is the better for it.

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