Jolla is a Finnish company composed mainly of ex-Nokia people that have worked on Nokia’s Maemo and MeeGo OS projects. These projects were Nokia’s attempts to create a Linux-based next-gen mobile OS to compete with Android, before the Microsoft buyout. Discontent with the situation, some of these employees left Nokia and decided to create a new company, named Jolla. Jolla then developed their own OS, called “Sailfish OS”, and their own phone, the Jolla Phone, a very capable device that was very well received. However, porting the Sailfish OS to other devices was always on the cards, and now we finally get a taste of it with the first public in-progress port of Sailfish OS to the first Android device yet, the Nexus 4. So, let’s take a look at what Sailfish OS is all about and what’s in the cards for the future of this OS and Android.
Sailfish OS is a very interesting piece of software, because it tries to do a lot of things differently and incorporates a lot of innovative features that make sense with the overall design, but would look out of place in other situations. For example, something Sailfish does is get rid of buttons on the interface. The whole screen is used to render the OS, with no button bar or constant UI elements like a notification bar present. Instead, the UI is tailored entirely for gesture-based navigation and you rely on swiping and scrolling around to reach different areas of the OS and manage your apps. It’s hard to explain, but it’s intuitive and very novel in the sense that it actually works and is surprisingly efficient. It’s not just a weird thought experiment, it’s a touch-first interface that works and fits mobile devices like a glove. It has all the standard components of a mobile OS, including notification support and multitasking, too. Check out the video below if you’re interested in seeing some of the OS interface elements in action:
Of course, being a modern mobile OS, the Sailfish OS has proper app support and a proper SDK for making your own apps and supporting them across the various devices running it. One cool thing about Sailfish OS is that, like some other before it, it also runs a vast majority of Android apps natively. Yes, Sailfish will most likely run your usual apps that you run on your phone right now. It does this by having a built-in Android app layer that makes it so the apps are able to run as if on an actual Android device. Of course, this also invalidates some of the finer points of Sailfish: for instance, running an Android app means that you will require using buttons for navigation, and as such a button bar will appear on the bottom of the screen, just like any other Android device. Since Jolla offers a buttonless interface first, this heavily clashes with the design and the rest of the OS, but at least it’s functional and does the job most of the times. Some apps will have issues, as the OS is maturing and the Android layer might still need some work, but overall it’s a pleasant experience and automatically grants Sailfish OS access to a huge number of popular apps out of the gate through a dedicated Android store, pictured below.
As we mentioned, the Nexus 4 is as of yet the only Android device to receive a public development Sailfish OS port, but many others are in the cards. Right now, development efforts are focused on the Nexus 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S3 ports, but in the future, the objective is for any device able to run CyanogenMod 10.1 to get a working build as development progresses and Jolla releases a development kit that allows direct porting through CyanogenMod. We still don’t know all the details, but chances are that Jolla will simply release the development kit and rely on the community to port it to their devices, while only officially supporting a handful of them. Still, we have no idea how it will work, or particulars on the range of devices that will get official support in the future. What’s likely though, is that this OS will be embraced by the community as an alternative to Android, potentially for lower-specced devices in case it manages to be lighter than Android, devices that are not supported anymore, or just for people looking to add a new flavor to their phone. You can check out installation instructions for the Nexus 4 on this post, but be advised, it’s not for beginners and impossible unless you already have a rooted device running CyanogenMod 10.1, not to mention it’s still in development and some functions are broken. Alternatively, you can also see a video of Sailfish in action on the Nexus 4 in the video below and just wait for a final release!