Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Jolla Phones & Tablets - An Unofficial FAQ

(first published August 2012, latest update 23rd November 2015)

Frequently Asked Questions about Jolla smartphones/tablets and the Sailfish OS. We have no connection to the company, but we're basing our information on what has been stated publicly by Jolla and various other unofficial sources.

Please post any corrections, queries, comments etc at the end of the article.

So, what IS Jolla?

Jolla is a new, independent company based in Finland that makes smartphones and develops mobile operating systems. They released their first smartphone in 2013 and hope to release their first tablet in 2015.

It was formed by the core team that created the Nokia N9 smartphone using the MeeGo operating system. See our brief video history of Jolla for a quick look at what led to their founding.

Many of Jolla's staff are ex-Nokia, and their products and projects are based on the Maemo/MeeGo platform that was created by Nokia. Jolla's headquarters are in Nokia's old Ruoholahti research centre where Maemo/MeeGo was developed, and it also has offices in Hong Kong. For these reasons as well as many others, a lot of people see Jolla as the spiritual heirs to pre-Windows Nokia.

What OS does Jolla run? Is it Android? What does the phone look like? What does the tablet look like? What does the interface look like?

Jolla phones and tablets run Sailfish OS, which is an updated version of Nokia's MeeGo platform. You can see the phone in this launch video and the interface in these tutorials. You can see the tablet in this launch video from its crowdfunding appeal.

Sailfish is not Android, but the two OSes are both based on Linux and are technically close enough that most Android apps can be made to run on Sailfish phones. The Jolla phone includes stores for both Sailfish and Android apps.

Why would I want a Jolla? What makes it different to other phones or tablets? Why would I want the Sailfish OS?

Jolla and the Sailfish platform are unique in many ways, and have features that aren't available on other devices.

For ordinary non-technical users, Sailfish offers a fluid gesture-based button-free multitasking interface which makes it easier to access all the device's functions quickly. Also, the open nature of the platform means security holes can be found and patched more easily, so the device itself should be more secure in everyday use. On top of all that, there's the very current issue of personal privacy: Jolla is based in Finland, a small neutral country in northern Europe, so the company doesn't have to conform to demands from the NSA or any other large power.

Technically-minded users can activate Developer mode, which effectively turns the Jolla into a pocket-sized Linux computer and gives greater access to the OS's inner workings, including control through a command line alongside the graphic interface. The Sailfish OS community encourages direct interaction between users, developers and manufacturers in a way that doesn't really happen with closed platforms, with a consequently faster rate of firmware and software updates. Also, the Other Half concept allows hardware developers and enthusiasts to get involved with the Jolla in a way that other devices don't.

Nokia fans who want a new device but don't want Windows might find Jolla a pretty good choice: it's arguably the platform that Nokia would have made if the Microsoft deal had never happened, made by Nokia's pre-deal staff in their pre-deal research centre using their pre-deal OS.

How can a small company like Jolla take over from a giant like Nokia? How can they afford to develop the OS and hardware?

Jolla is obviously much smaller than Nokia, but they are building on existing OSes, development communities and hardware rather than trying to create everything from scratch. 

Jolla's Sailfish OS builds on Nokia's MeeGo OS technically, and many people in the open source community who contributed to Nokia's Maemo and MeeGo are now contributing to Jolla's Sailfish.

As for the actual devices, because Sailfish runs on stock Android hardware Jolla can leave hardware development to third party commercial manufacturers. As Android devices get better so will Sailfish devices, because they run on the same hardware.

What is the first phone made by Jolla? What is the first tablet?

You can find out more about the first phones and tablets, simply called "Jolla" and "Jolla Tablet", at jolla.com.

Where can I get a Jolla phone?

The very first Jolla phone went on sale in Finland on 27th November 2013 at a special event in Helsinki's Narinkkatori.

Jollas are now available across the entire European Union, Norway, Switzerland, India and Hong Kong. You can order a Jolla phone directly from the official shop in the EU, Norway and Switzerland. They are availble in India through Snapdeal and in Hong Kong through Three.

(In theory the Jolla phone should work in most of the world, but its 3G frequencies apparently aren't compatible with North American networks.)

Where can I get a Jolla Tablet?

You can't. Jolla is in financial difficulties right now and has frozen all tablet shipments. People who pre-ordered it have not received it either.

What are the Jolla phone's technical specifications?

The specs for the first Jolla phone look like this:

  • Micro-SIM card slot
  • GSM 850/900/1800/1900 cellular
  • 3G 900/2100 cellular
  • 4G LTE 800/1800/2600 cellular
  • Wi-Fi / WLAN 802.11b/g/n
  • GPS + GLONASS satellite navigation
  • USB 2.0 HS with microUSB connector
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • Internal sensors (proximity, accelerometer, gyro, e-compass, ambient light)
  • Dual microphones for noise cancellation
Interface & OS:
  • Gesture-based multitouch Sailfish OS with live multitasking
  • Android and Sailfish app compatible, official support for Aptoide, Anzhi Market and Yandex app stores, also supports sideloading (Google Play and Amazon App Store can be installed unofficially)
  • Volume controls and power button on side of phone
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 1.4 GHz dual core CPU
  • 16GB built-in storage + microSD slot
  • 1 GB RAM
Screen & Exterior:
  • 4.5" Estrade display (qHD 960 x 540) with Gorilla Glass 2 and five-point multitouch
  • Multicoloured indicator light
  • Weight 141g
  • Dimensions 131 x 68 x 9.9 mm 
  • The Other Half (unique to Jolla, interchangeable back cover which interacts with the main phone unit, includes NFC, power connections and I2C data)
  • 8MP AF main camera with LED flash
  • 2MP secondary camera
  • Volume control button also works as camera button
  • User-replaceable 2100 mAh battery
  • Talk time 10 hours (GSM) / 9 hours (3G), standby time 500 hours

How much does the Jolla phone cost?

Unlocked SIM-free and without sales tax or subsidies the Jolla phone's price is 189 euros.

The advertised price is 249 euros because that's the price in Finland and includes 24% sales tax.

However, you can get the Jolla phone at a reduced price by getting a Combo perk from the Jolla Tablet Indiegogo website. These pre-order offers end on 31st March 2015.

What are the Jolla Tablet's technical specifications?

The specs for the first Jolla Tablet are as follows:

  • Wi-Fi / WLAN 802.11 a/b/g/n dual-band
  • GPS + GLONASS satellite navigation
  • MicroUSB OTG
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • Internal sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, light)
Interface & OS:
  • Gesture-based multitouch Sailfish OS with live multitasking
  • Android and Sailfish app compatible
  • 64-bit 1.8GHz Quad-Core/Intel
  • 32GB or 64GB built-in storage + microSD slot (supports up to 128GB memory cards)
  • 2GB RAM (DDR3L-RS)
Screen & Exterior:
  • 7.85” IPS screen (capacitive 5 point multi-touch)
  • 2048 x 1536
  • 330 ppi resolution
  • Weight 384g
  • Dimensions 203 x 137 x 8.3 mm 
  • Fully laminated
  • 5MP rear camera
  • 2MP front camera
  • Full HD 1080p video
  • 4450 mAh battery (3.8V)

How much does the Jolla Tablet cost?

The Jolla Tablet's pre-order pre-tax price (for people who didn't take part in the Indiegogo crowdfunding) is €215 for the 32GB model and €241 for the 64GB model.

This price doesn't include sales tax / VAT, which depends on which country you are shipping the tablet to, because different countries have different levels of tax. For example the UK price including VAT for the 32GB model is €258.39, which is about £186 at time of writing.

What about the software? What kind of apps are available on Jolla devices?

Jolla devices run both Sailfish apps and Android apps.

Sailfish apps and selected Android apps are sold through the built-in Jolla store.

A much larger range of Android apps are also available through the officially supported Aptoide, Anzhi Market and Yandex stores (which can be installed from the Jolla Store's "Marketplaces" section).

Unofficially you can also install many other Android app stores including Amazon and Google Play using the phone's Developer mode, but these aren't officially supported so they may not work properly. Here's how to install Google Play and here is how to install the Amazon app store.

There are also many other Sailfish apps outside the official store on OpenRepos.net.

Apps can also be sideloaded.

How can developers submit apps to the Jolla store? Do they have to be Sailfish apps? How much does it cost? Where can developers get the Sailfish SDK?

You can submit both Sailfish and Android apps to the Jolla store via the Jolla Harbour site. App submissions are free.

You can get the Sailfish SDK from SailfishOS.org.

Who is providing the sat nav on Jolla devices?

Maps are provided by HERE (formerly known as Nokia Maps), the same company that provided it on the N9.

There's no official turn-by-turn navigation app, but that is apparently in development.

What's the point of the "Other Half"? What makes it different to ordinary replaceable covers?

The Other Half that comes with the Jolla is basically a plastic cover with an NFC chip inside it that customises the look of the user interface. If you change the Jolla's cover, the look of the phone's interface changes with it.

However, that's not the whole story! The Other Half also includes both power and data connections which link it to the phone, and allow it to act as a hardware extension or peripheral. In theory a stack of multiple Other Halves could be connected to a single Jolla phone like a deck of cards.

So far Jolla have released a couple of official Other Halves which mainly focus on the styling of the phone and interface, but a lot of more advanced accessories are also technically possible. There's a discussion thread of Other Half suggestions over on maemo.org. There's also a thread dedicated to building an OH-based QWERTY physical keyboard.

Jolla have also published the official Other Half development kit (including physical OH models) so that anyone can make their own Other Half, and you can also download an unofficial OH model here.

Can I install Sailfish OS on Android devices?

Yes, but it is a bit tricky. For example, here's a step-by-step guide for installing Sailfish on the Nexus 5 over on Jolla Users.

Is Jolla owned by Nokia?

No, it's an independent and totally separate company with its own investors, its own workforce and its own distribution deals.

However, the people who founded it used to work for Nokia until very recently, the MeeGo platform was originally developed by Nokia, and Jolla has its headquarters in Nokia's former research centre in Finland, so there are obviously some very significant historical and technological links.

Will Nokia's deal with Microsoft affect Jolla?

No. Jolla is an independent company with independent technology based on open source code, and has no connection to Microsoft or Nokia.

Has Jolla signed any deals yet?

Yes, they have, for example with China's largest phone retailer, India's Snapdeal, Hong Kong's Three and Finland's network operator DNA.

Does Jolla have a website?

Yes, at jolla.com.

They also have an official questions and feature request sub-site at together.jolla.com, an extremely active and responsive Twitter channel, a Facebook page, a Linkedin page and a YouTube channel.

There are various unofficial sites such as Jolla Tides, and you can see a list of fansites at Jolla Communities. The Jolla Wikipedia entry is also a very detailed starting point.

The OpenRepos.net website is a treasuretrove of Sailfish apps which have not yet made it into the official store.

For the more technically-minded, a pretty good place to discuss Jolla and Sailfish is over on talk.maemo.org, which has been the backbone of the Maemo/MeeGo community over the past eight years. You can discuss the Jolla phone itself on the Jolla & Other Half forum and the Sailfish OS on the Sailfish forum.

Is the company called "Jolla" or "Jolla Mobile"?

It's just "Jolla".

What does "Jolla" mean?

It's a Finnish word meaning a small boat or dinghy. Some people see the company as a "lifeboat" for developers at Nokia who wanted to continue their work on MeeGo. The lifeboat metaphor is especially apt in many people's minds due to Elop's infamous "burning platform" speech, which preceeded Nokia selling itself over entirely to Windows.

It may also be a reference to Mer, the version of MeeGo that they are going to use. (Open source software fans might like to check out Mer's Wikipedia entry, as its history is slightly complicated.)

How do you pronounce "Jolla"?

The pronunciation in English is roughly "Yol - lah". The letter "j" in Finnish is pronounced somewhat like a "y" or "i" in English.

Does Jolla have any connection to La Jolla in California?


Can I run Sailfish on the Nokia N9?

Officially, no, Jolla are not allowed to support the N9 as it was made by Nokia. Jolla is a totally separate company.

Unofficially, yes, Sailfish can be installed and you can see a video of Sailfish running on an N9 here. However it doesn't run perfectly, for example the Android compatibility doesn't work on an N9 yet.

Do Jolla's devices use the Swipe user interface seen on the N9?

It's not exactly the same, but Jolla's own interface is broadly similar.

What is MeeGo's history?

It's a Linux-based operating system for smartphones and other mobile devices. It was jointly developed by Nokia, Intel and the open source community, and derives from an earlier Nokia project called Maemo (which formed the basis of the Nokia N900, N810, N800 and 770). It also traces its history to an Intel project called Moblin. It was originally intended to be on phones, tablets, computers and embedded in cars, but Nokia's premature abandonment of the platform meant it never got further than the N9 smartphone.

Why isn't Nokia going to make more MeeGo phones?

For various reasons which are still slightly unclear, in early 2011 Nokia decided to sign an exclusivity deal with Microsoft that only allows them to make Windows-based phones for the next few years. The deal was signed before the first MeeGo device had been released, so it effectively killed Nokia's MeeGo unit before it was ever given a chance to prove itself.

The Nokia N9 was still released later in 2011, but Nokia's Chief Executive Stephen Elop made it clear that even if the N9 sold well they would not continue MeeGo's development. (Elop was previously an executive at Microsoft, and took over at Nokia after the Microsoft-exclusivity deal had been agreed upon, so his background was geared entirely around Windows.)

Did Nokia give Jolla their patents covering MeeGo?

Apparently not. MeeGo is an open source operating system, so in theory anyone can make a MeeGo-based phone without asking permission or paying royalties.

The actual situation is slightly more complicated, the Nokia N9 smartphone also contained some non-open elements which Nokia still controls, and Jolla has had to create their own substitutes for these (the so-called "special sauce").

(The situation with Nokia's MeeGo and Jolla's Sailfish is similar to Google's Android and Amazon's Kindle: both are based on the same open source core, but they have different extensions and use different app stores so they are now regarded as separate platforms.)

Did the N9 sell well?

Nokia refuses to say, but according to unofficial sources it appears that despite all the difficulties it did sell quite well. It got excellent reviews too, the best Nokia had received in many years.

Is the N9 still on sale?

No, but there may still be some available on the internet.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Nokia vs Nokia

(Apologies that this article isn't strictly speaking directly Jolla-related, but due to their very close shared history Jolla's chances of becoming global may well be intertwined with Nokia's return to smartphone manufacturing. This is intended to be a commentary on the possibilities surrounding that scenario.)

Nokia's shareholders recently approved the sale of their phone-making unit to Microsoft, but the rest of the company (including the Nokia brand itself) was not part of this deal, so Nokia Lumia devices will become Microsoft Lumia devices once the sale process is completed.

However, as noted in a previous article on this site, the terms of the deal have two extra bits of small print: Nokia cannot use their own brand on smartphones until 2016, and Microsoft has permission to use the Nokia brand on feature (non-smart) phones until 2024. This brings up an interesting possible scenario for the period 2016 to 2024: two competing sets of incompatible Nokia-branded phones made by two totally separate companies on sale simultaneously. Quite how consumers would react to this would be interesting to say the least.

Here's how it would work:

In the blue corner: Nokia Nokia smartphones

These phones would be made by Nokia, the Finnish company which owns the Nokia brand and currently consists of NSN Networks, HERE Maps and a patent management division. There is nothing to stop it getting back into making phones and smartphones (quite possibly by buying Jolla, which is why this article is on this site), and from 2016 onwards there would be nothing to stop them making smartphones again using the Nokia brand.

They would also no longer be bound by any commitment to the Windows Phone platform, and considering the disaster that it brought upon the company it seems likely they would avoid it like the plague. Their options for non-Windows devices are explored in the article mentioned above.

In the red corner: Microsoft Nokia feature phones

These phones would be made by Microsoft, the American company which owns the Lumia and Asha brands and currently consists of both the current Microsoft company and the former phone-making division of Nokia. They would not be allowed to use the Nokia name on their smartphones because they do not own the brand, but thanks to their licence from 2014 - 2024 they would be allowed to have the Nokia brand on their non-smart phones.

It was assumed by most that this would mean Microsoft producing cheap Asha devices which run Nokia's old Series 40 proprietary platform, but the recent leaks about devices codenamed "Normandy" coupled with those same leaks' Windows-esque stylings bring up another and very bizarre possibility: Microsoft could be releasing Nokia-branded phones based on some kind of crippled Android fork dressed up to look like Windows (they would have to be crippled in order to comply with the legal terms of their licence to use the Nokia brand). If this is the case, presumably MS see this as cheaper than maintaining the Asha Series 40 OS, but it still seems an odd and embarassing move by Microsoft, effectively conceding that Android is a better platform for low-end devices. It also runs the risk that people upgrading from those devices would just go to a higher end Android phone instead of Windows.

So, what happens next?

Although a "Nokia vs Nokia" confrontation would be an interesting one, it's almost impossible to know if it will happen and what would happen if it did, because the mobile landscape is likely to change radically both leading up to 2014 and beyond.

Part of the outcome would depend on how relevant the non-smart feature phone market is by 2016. Smartphones are occupying an ever-increasing share of the market even in developing countries, and it could be that the market for feature phones will simply disappear by then. However, why did Microsoft buy a 10 year feature phone licence if they felt it had no value? Was this just a mistake by Microsoft, or do they think feature phones will continue to be a going concern for the next ten years, or do they have some devious plan to actually somehow sell Nokia-branded smartphones without technically breaching the licence terms? Or was Nokia just trying to sweeten the deal while avoiding selling the more lucrative smartphone brand rights?

There are also many reasons to think that other events would intervene before 2016, preventing such a head-to-head from ever taking place.

Windows Phone's future is still in the balance with a global market share of about 3% after several years and literally billions spent on marketing and development. Perhaps the most salient question is what will happen to the Lumia range (which now accounts for almost all WP sales) after it no longer carries the Nokia name, something that will happen from 2014 onwards. If significant numbers of people abandon Lumia, then the entire future of Microsoft's presence in the mobile market would be called into doubt before 2016, and the head to head would never happen.

As for Nokia's near future, on one level they seem to have given up on phones by selling their phone-making division. But if that's really the case, why did they hang on to what is essentially a consumer-oriented phone brand? Neither HERE Maps nor NSN nor the patent division have any need for the Nokia brand so why did Nokia keep it? They must intend to do something with it, and the thing that would make the most sense for such a brand would be smartphones of some kind.

Maybe the weirdest plausible scenario would be this: Windows-based Lumia sales decline due to the removal of Nokia branding, but Android-based Asha sales increase due to it being the first Nokia-branded Android phone. That might lead Microsoft to abandon its own OS in favour of adopting a competitor's, which was exactly the fate they forced upon Nokia just a few years ago.

What about Jolla?

Although Jolla is a new company making a new product, in many people's eyes they are the true heir to Nokia, continuing the work that Nokia abandoned when it drank the Windows kool-aid.

Now Nokia has apparently purged Windows from its system by selling the phones unit, it's very tempting for fans of the old Nokia to believe they could decide to get back into smartphones by investing in or even buying Jolla: it would arguably see the old company restored to the path it was supposed to take in the first place, while also promoting a platform that deserves a proper second chance.

Maybe that's just wishful thinking, maybe it's not realistic, maybe Nokia has changed so much internally that it's not even a desirable scenario any more. However, we can always hope, and perhaps the next couple of years will see some very interesting things happen.