Interview: Jolla: apps are making our smartphones dumb

Interview: Jolla: apps are making our smartphones dumb

A different approach

"Brave" is the word we used to describe Jolla’s go-it-alone smartphone in our hands on review. According to the company’s co-founder Marc Dillon, we’re far from the first.

"It was something we had to do. It takes a lot of work and a lot of passion and really bringing everything that we have into this. We’ve put our whole lives into this company," he said.

Jolla is the David against Goliath. It’s a phone that wants to prove we can have options beyond Android and iOS, that things have got stale in a world where Google and Apple have the stranglehold on the smartphone market.

But the Jolla phone itself is just a vessel – it’s Sailfish OS, lying within, that’s the open source game-changer. So why didn’t the Jolla team just push out its operating system to existing devices rather than having to build a phone as well?

"I thought about it a lot," says Dillon. "Especially in the early days when we lost our chipset [the company moving to Qualcomm in late 2012]. But the fact of that matter is that you need to have a flagship device, and an iconic device, in order to make it real. Why would someone take it into use, especially coming from a small company, if there’s not a proof that it can turn into a consumer product?"


Weird fishes

With its gesture-based design, Sailfish OS is built so users can operate it with one hand. It’s also designed to be more intuitive in the way it uses multi-tasking and live information on apps.

You might already know that Sailfish began its life as the Linux-based operating system MeeGo, which was ditched by The Linux Foundation in favour of Tizen. And with Nokia also turning its back on the OS after the N9 (its first and last MeeGo device), it seemed dead in the water – until a few characters from the MeeGo team broke away from Nokia to form Jolla.

Though only loosely based on MeeGo, Jolla is considered by many to be a spiritual successor to the N9. "I think that we did some evolution and some revolution on top of those ideas," says Dillon when we ask to what extent that’s true.

But Jolla is here to prove more than that it can resurrect a dead OS. To put it bluntly, it’s here to show us why smartphones have become boring.

Why do we need apps?

"It’s absolutely ridiculous that there was the internet and you could get everything that you wanted everywhere, and then applications took that away from you," says Dillon. "They put it into a box. And somebody controls what goes in and out of that box. It should be more open than that."

The Jolla phone uses apps – its own and Android APKs – but the bigger vision is to move away from applications as we currently understand them.

"There’s not a lot of deep integration that makes it seamless for you as a user," says Dillon. "You don’t think in terms of this app or that app. You think in terms of ‘what do I want to do today?’.

"We have a tunnel vision with applications now – you’re either in this app or you’re in that app. So we started with the multitasking, so you can see all the things in your digital life at the same time."


Jolla’s ambitions are rather aligned with Google Now then, something that Dillon reinforces with when we ask him where he wants to see Jolla – and other smartphones – in a few years time.

"I’d like to see it more where the smartphone is actually smart, not just running applications," says Dillon. "And where it can help you with suggestions, saying things like ‘you haven’t called your mother in a while’ or ‘Did you know that, while you’re travelling, one of your favourite shops is just around the corner?’.

"Make it user focused instead of having companies that are just pushing their advertising to you and pushing things that aren’t always relevant, even though they know everything about you because they’re selling your data."

Ok, so more like Google Now without all the data-gobbling. But whether or not Jolla can truly shake up the smartphone market, it deserves recognition for going against the grain and attempting to inject life into a market that’s becoming increasingly unexciting and predictable.

"Everything now is being pushed down to commodity level because it’s all the same," says Dillon. "So the operators are a commodity, all they are is an internet connection now, there’s no reason to pick one or the other than price.

"The hardware is in two segments: there’s this low-end stuff that doesn’t really offer anything new, then there’s this high end so stuff that’s all about flash. It’s about make it bigger, make it shinier, add more processor cores..

It’s the perfect time to create something that’s different."

  • TechRadar goes hands on with the Jolla phone