JOLLA: a MeeGo fan’s perspective
Jolla today released details of their upcoming smartphone device, named the ‘Jolla phone’ at the moment, and they also began the process of signing up interested people to preorder the device for when it comes available later this year. Those brave souls who participate in the pre-ordering will receive a Jolla-branded T-shirt and 100€ off the price of the unit, which (at the moment) is guaranteed to be not above 399€ (about $500 excluding shipping), so you effectively will be asked to pay 299€ for the Jolla phone when it is ready to be shipped. As of right now, the phone’s preorder is only available in certain European countries. It’s useful to know people in those countries if you’re say, living in the US!
They are putting their faith in people, that’s for sure. I for one have put my faith in Jolla and I immediately signed up and paid my money (about $130) to preorder the phone. Why? Because I am confident that whatever they produce at the end of the year will certainly be something I would want to buy, and use as my main device, in addition to my Nokia phones, namely the Nokia 808 PureView for its amazing camera power. The demos of the Sailfish OS look exactly what I want, coming from an N9.
The formation of Jolla is well-documented, but my take on it is this: there were talented Linux programmers within Nokia who had managed to produce the Nokia Internet Tablets, most famously with the phone-capable Nokia N900. I owned one of these and absolutely loved it. I loved it not because everything worked out of the box like the mass-market phones did, but because it was the ultimate geek-phone, a phone that needed odd tweaks and side-loaded mods and apps for things like MMS to even work properly. I know it may sound daft, but that was the appeal. The appeal was also being part of a real, passionate community, the Maemo forum members who chatted freely on talk.maemo.org and swapped ideas, apps, tweaks, mods, to make their N900 device better and better, without the help of the company that created it in the first place. It was very cool, despite its shortcomings, and was not seen as a mass-market phone. Indeed, the idea from the community of a mass-market device made us shudder (think: iPhone!) Many of the developers of Maemo were active participants on TMO and would give advice and opinions (usually under their pseudonym TMO handle for anonymity) and this made you feel that you were truly connecting with the actual people who wrote the code for the phone. Something I doubt you could do with any other platform at the time.
When the MeeGo-powered Nokia N9 was launched, it was after the big February 11th 2011 announcement when the company switched to Windows Phone, so the Maemo community just knew that the N9 was going to be doomed and support and development cut chort. When we got our hands on it, it was even more bittersweet because the N9 was/is such a beautiful piece of hardware. MeeGo-Harmattan was also seen as a huge success from the same team that produced the N900, but even the most diehard of N9 fans could see that there were big holes in the OS, big holes that were most likely not going to filled in now that Nokia was going down the Microsoft road.
Once the CEO had decided this, and once the various Maemo-MeeGo developers and coders were sacked from the mother company, they decided to not go and work in Starbucks or BestBuy, but to band together to continue what they had been so good at, and start their own venture, Jolla. And why not? These guys and gals had enormous talent, and I’m sure that if Nokia were under different management (like Rich Green as CEO for example) and the company had preferred to keep it all in-house like continuing to invest in MeeGo for its top end smartphone division, the people who are now at Jolla would be the heroes at Nokia right now, producing incredible devices that could possibly rival the iPhones and Galaxies of this world. But as it happened, they were sacked. So I think what they did was admirable, brave and sensible, given that their skill-set meant that they could take what they had brought to and learned from Nokia, and use it to some benefit. What a waste that would have been if they’d ditched their passion to work in a field that had nothing to do with mobile technology?
Now, some may say that the Jolla sailors are riding (or sailing?) on the coattails of their previous employer, Nokia. I disagree. Sure, they may be basing their Sailfish OS on MeeGo (outwardly by the way) but of course, why wouldn’t they? Nokia sure as heck didn’t want to keep it for their own development, so it makes perfect sense to me that a company that sacks its employees who are expert in a particular field, allows them to continue that particular field if the employer has no further interest in it. Nokia and MeeGo are over, that is plain for all to see, so why then, shouldn’t these talented people use those skills and knowledge to build up a brand new OS and device based on the success of all their previous hard work? Nokia are certainly not threatened by this, and they shouldn’t be. Nokia have enough to do battling against the leviathan that is Android. A small startup like Jolla is the least of their worries, and if anything, they are probably grateful that some good is coming out of a very tricky situation when they decided to make a large portion of their staff unemployed.
Jolla is brand new, so there are bound to be questions, there is bound to be skepticism and there is most certainly going to be cynicism out there. But it surely must be seen as a positive thing, that from a ‘burning platform’ a ‘life-dinghy’ has been able to stay afloat to help some people survive, if not thrive. And who benefits? Well obviously them, but also us, the consumers. Because once the device is released into the wild, it’s not going to overtake Nokia, Samsung or Apple, but it will provide (as BlackBerry are doing) another branch for people to take in the mobile world that is off the beaten path.
As Nokia enthusiasts, we must understand that the history of Nokia has changed a great deal over the years, and this is one department that may have been shut down, to the great dismay of many, but has new life elsewhere. Its roots are Nokian, and the people who run Jolla were, at one time, very passionate about Nokia. The sheer fact that they are taking MeeGo to new heights says just that. And people need not worry about timescales and device reliability. I have every faith that without the shackles of corporate interference and red tape, the guys at Jolla will thrive better than they did when they were on Nokia’s payroll. They won’t have to ‘battle it out’ with another in-house OS team (ahem, Symbian) and they won’t have R&D money suddenly cut and new deadlines thrust in their faces. They are their own entity now, and they are in charge of Jolla and what it is capable of. We’ve already seen some excellent demonstrations of their talent in the Sailfish OS videos out there. Sure, they will be judged ultimately on their shipped products and their services, but from what has been revealed so far, I’m very confident that the Jolla phone will complement my collection of Nokias very nicely, and I wish them all the luck in the world.