Jolla CEO hopes to put an end to smartphone spec war

Apple and Google have become too comfortable, which leaves the door open for competing platforms, according to CEO Marc Dillon

Finnish company Jolla and its CEO Marc Dillon are hoping to convince consumers that buying a new smartphone isn't just about the number of cores available and the size of the screen when the company later this year releases the first smartphone based on the Sailfish OS.

Breaking into the smartphone market with a new OS may seem like a tall order, but at Mobile World Congress the backers of several new ones are showing off their software. Mozilla, which develops Firefox OS, has been the most visible, but Jolla is equally determined to make a dent in Google and Apple's dominance.

Jolla was founded by former Nokia employees who wanted to continue the development work the Finnish phone maker had done on the MeeGo OS. The company currently has about 60 employees.

Unlike the Firefox OS camp Jolla isn't launching any products in Barcelona. The first Sailfish-based smartphone will hopefully be launched in the next month or two and go on sale before the end of the year.

"This being our first device, we are putting our hearts and souls and everything into this, so we want to make sure it is as good as possible when it comes out," Dillon said.

He doesn't want reveal any details about the product, but said it will be a high-end device that is "maybe a bit more mid-tier" when it comes to the price tag. The company doesn't want to get involved in the current specification war, according to Dillon.

"The final specification of the product we'll talk about at launch. But, that's the thing, when you make it a spec war it doesn't really have anything to do with how the phone feels to the user and what its like," Dillon said.

In general, more choice is good for consumers, and is going to help drive innovation in a market that has gone a bit stale. So it's the perfect time for challengers to come along, according to Dillon.

"[Google and Apple] have been going on with the status quo, and we have seen little innovation once they have gotten their market position and their dominance. Those are the guys that have the most to lose at the moment," Dillon said.

In a demo, Dillon showed some of the features that will help set Sailfish apart from the competition. For example, a pulley menu allows users to directly access often-used features. Haptics tell the user as the menu goes from one option to the next, so it isn't necessary to look at the screen.

"It is available in all applications as well as the home screen and other places. It doesn't take up any real estate or button space on the device, and you can basically use it blindfolded," Dillon said.

The homescreen also uses what Jolla calls active covers, which are thumbnails of opened applications from which users also can access multiple features directly by scrolling from side-to-side or just clicking on them to access the main feature.

Jolla's first product will be about spearheading the market, proving that a small company can develop a competitive product.

"In order to be successful we don't have to sell that many devices compared to the other guys. If you have an 800 million global device market, a million devices is still a wild success for Jolla, at the moment, and for Sailfish," Dilllon said.

Even though the company didn't announce a product at Mobile World Congress, it did take an important step and released the first version of its SDK, which will allow developers to start working on apps.

Jolla is also hoping to license Sailfish to other phone makers. The company is already talking to potential partners. To show what it can do, the company borrows hardware from a potential partner, and then Jolla comes back in a few days or weeks with Sailfish installed on it. It has been developed to be easily adaptable to different screen sizes, a lesson learned at Nokia.

When Dillon left Nokia he had worked at the company for 11 years.

"There was such fantastic collection of people there over the years. We used to joke that Finland is a small country and Nokia is an even smaller country," Dillon said.

What ended up happening after the strategy change was that a lot people who would have stayed their whole work lives have started new companies. Nokia encouraged if not completely supported that behavior as people where transitioning in their lives, according to Dillon.

"For a little while there was a concern about the technology sector in Finland. But we are not worried anymore," he said.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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