In the beginning of this July, a small Finland-based company Jolla came in public with news that they will continue the development of MeeGo and release a new smartphone during 2012. This immediately gained an enormous interest. In ten days they had more than 10,000 followers on Twitter and a lot of publicity in media. How could a small company, less than one hundred employees, produce a competitive smartphone on mass market?
First of all, they need publicity in media. And they already have got some. I’m pretty sure that Jolla already has thousands of “must buy” customers. Of course, only this is not enough to make a new success story, but it is a start though. As one potential success factor I would mention the platform they have chosen - MeeGo based open-source project Mer - and even more importantly their attitude towards developers and technology enthusiasts.
Jolla is going to release a developer edition of the device which gives full access to linux hackers and technology enthusiasts. Jolla will fully support the communities and be part of them, and wants them to be part of creating and developing our device”
According to my knowledge, there have been no such device in market since OpenMoko project. Both Nokia N900 and N9 have been more or less restricted, let alone Android devices. Full access to mobile device hardware is for sure going to attract many developers and hackers. Of course, we don’t know yet how open the device is actually going to be. Is it running completely on free and open-source software? Even the firmware, boot loader and so on? If the answer is yes, I’ll be surprised. But even completely unrestricted access to kernel and other low-level software components would be great.
However, even all hackers in the world are not enough to make the project commercially successful. But they are potentially a huge asset for Jolla Mobile:
- Developers, hackers and technology enthusiasts are early adopters of Jolla device - they will provide immediate feedback, analysis and bug reports once the first device is launched.
- Many of the them are interested to contribute to software development.
- They will voluntarily work as evangelists and bloggers for the Jolla Mobile. Just as I do right now.
- They will also produce end-user applications and keep the ecosystem active.
Also there have been some speculations, whether the Jolla will have the same fate as OpenMoko which was not commercially successful. As Jolla CEO Jussi Hurmola has said, Jolla devices are targeted for all consumers. The open-source is not the main goal of Jolla - just a tool for creating a device. In the case of OpenMoko, things were vice versa. OpenMoko’s Freerunner-devices were sold about 10,000 and I guess that a huge majority of those were sold for hackers and programmers.
Instead of comparing Jolla and OpenMoko in sense of “how OpenMoko failed”, I think that we should also pay attention to the results of OpenMoko project. OpenMoko Incorporation, along with the community around, was able to design and produce a functional smartphone. Yes, a functional smartphone. I’ve used Openmoko’s Freerunner as my primary cellphone for a year. Yes, it worked and was reliable enough. Yes, I was able to make and receive calls, navigate with GPS and browse the web. And yes, the UI was crappy, there was many bugs and so on. But they proved that you don’t need to be Nokia or Apple to produce a smartphone. And that is why the guys in Jolla should be encouraged, not discouraged by experiences of OpenMoko.
I don’t know how budgets of OpenMoko Inc. and Jolla Mobile compare to each other, but I am pretty sure that if OpenMoko was able to create a smartphone, Jolla will be too. From my point of view it seems that Jolla Mobile is doing same things right as OpenMoko project. Utilizing free software and taking advantage of developers, open-source hippies and technology enthusiasts. In contrast, Jolla must also do right the things that OpenMoko project did wrong. Usability, marketing, reliability, consumer friendliness. And business.
Hence, I have no doubt at all whether Jolla can produce nice and cool Linux-based mobile device. But is that going to be a commercial success? That’s another story. We will see.