Ex-Nokia engineers launch a Linux smartphone that runs Android apps

Jolla smartphone uses an OS based on the Nokia's former MeeGo project and will be sold in 135 countries

Just what the world needs -- another smartphone platform. From Nokia, no less.

For two years now, Jolla, a crew of ex-Nokia engineers based in both Finland and Hong Kong, has been working on a smartphone powered by Sailfish, a variant of Nokia's previously abandoned, Linux-based MeeGo OS. Now the first Jolla phone is ready to ship and will go on sale tonight in Finland (pre-orders were €399), with many other territories to follow afterward.

Not much is known about the phone yet, other than that it uses a dual-core processor, sports 16GB of memory and a spare SD card slot, and eschews buttons (save for possibly a volume rocker) in favor of a gesture-based UI. As for Sailfish, it's billed as an "independent, open, partner-friendly" mobile OS that uses the Mer project (itself derived from the earlier MeeGo) for its UI.

It's going to be tough, to say the least, for the Jolla and for Sailfish to make a dent in the smartphone market. But the Jolla, and Sailfish itself, have a feature that may give it a slight edge: Sailfish runs existing Android apps via a third-party runtime. Apps for Sailfish can be built either using the native Qt interface (Qt itself being a former Nokia property) or via HTML5. The Sailfish folks claim to be looking into compatibility with Firefox OS APIs as well.

It's a wise move to allow Sailfish to be compatible with at least one of the existing phone-app ecosystems, given that Nokia has tried and failed before to make MeeGo into a workable platform. The Nokia N9 phone was released in 2011 but made no detectable splash in the marketplace -- and that was right on the heels of Nokia deciding to use Windows Phone as its platform of choice.

Analyst Geoff Blaber, when interviewed by the BBC about Jolla and Sailfish, theorized that Jolla's long-term strategy was to create a phone platform that could be licensed out to other manufacturers. It's an approach similar to what Mozilla is attempting to do with Firefox OS, with the big differentiators being Sailfish's (and Firefox OS's) alleged greater openness over Android.

InfoWorld's Simon Phipps has written before about how Nokia and BlackBerry could have been major competition for Apple had they embraced more open ecosystems. It's unlikely Jolla and Sailfish will make much of a dent in a marketplace already ruled by Android, despite Sailfish's Android compatibility. But given how much ex-Nokia talent is bound up in this project, it'll be worth watching just to see how their approach unfolds and whether it'll become its own animal or just another way to run Android.

This story, "Ex-Nokia engineers launch a Linux smartphone that runs Android apps," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform