European consumers have had a sneak peak at the smartphones available from Finnish start-up Jolla since late 2013. Even more importantly than the devices themselves is the OS running on these phones. Sailfish is an operating system that can run Android apps. Consumers who don’t have a Jolla smartphone get the chance this year to try Sailfish OS in a preliminary way. Industry observers and managers at Jolla are eager to see if users will embrace Sailfish beyond its initial launch.

The Beginning

To understand how Jolla came to this point of preparing to launch its new OS, it’s important to know how the OS and company got started. Jolla’s founders came from smartphone maker Nokia. They started their own enterprise to finish developing and take to market a project Nokia deep sixed.

The technology staff at Nokia had started developing a new OS called MeeGo. At the time, Nokia hoped this platform would be robust enough to challenge Android and iOS. However, Nokia ditched the project in favor of developing a phone featuring Microsoft Windows, an OS for smartphones that’s a distant third behind Android and iOS. In fact, research from Gartner show iPhone and Android devices gobbled up 94 percent of smartphone sales in 2013.

Strategy for User Adoption

Jolla’s strategy for rolling out Sailfish received attention in an article on Gigoam by David Meyer. Meyer notes that to encourage users to try and ultimately adopt this new OS, Jolla is offering users of Android cell phones the opportunity to download a free launcher that simulates the Sailfish user interface.

Essentially, the launcher merely changes the appearance of the apps and software your phone uses to show how the user interface would look with the Sailfish OS. Meyer goes on to quote Jolla’s chairman as saying there’s a statistic from China that gives him hope a significant number of Android users will embrace Sailfish: In 2013, 100 million smartphones changed operating systems after users bought them.

By enticing users to give the OS a test run, Jolla thinks the interface and features are compelling enough to convince consumers to embrace the actual OS when it becomes available in March. Anyone who has Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy and Sony Xperia will be able to port the entire OS, when it becomes available.

Early Reviews

Those who have had the chance to test Sailfish say its design and interface offer users an experience that’s distinct from what they get with Android. The Linux-based operating system relies on gestures such as dragging and swiping to move through apps and content. You pull down menus, functions, and options that normally remain hidden just off-screen. The idea is to let you perform multiple actions without having to lift your finger from the screen and tap again. Reviewers note the interface is friendly enough to allow users to accomplish a lot with just one hand.

The OS makes it quick and easy to return to the home screen with its nine box layout where minimized apps reside. This design makes it easy to see which content is active. While the set-up may enhance productivity and reduce time spent moving through apps, the interface is so different that users may require a lot of time to get up to speed on how to move through the phone. In addition, some reviewers expressed frustration with navigation requirements that seemed different for the same of being different as opposed to being more intuitive.


To encourage consumers to purchase Jolla smartphones that run Sailfish, the company has engaged in some creative partnerships. For example, it’s teamed up with another Finnish company, Rovio, to offer a suite of Angry Birds features, including a phone cover, ringtones, and graphics. In addition, Jolla has a partnership with a retailer in China to get its phones and OS into more hands in that country.

If you’re an Android user, are you willing to try Jolla’s launcher for Sailfish and see whether you like the required gestures and layout of this system? Which features do you most want to try on this new OS? What might hold you back from adopting a new OS on your Android phone?

 Image via Flickr by closari

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