Jolla’s Sailfish Rises From MeeGo’s Ashes As Company Signs First Carrier Deal With DNA

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Jolla — the startup built by the team behind the smartphone OS that Nokia abandoned in favor of Windows Phone — revealed its first big smartphone customer deal today, the mobile operator DNA of Finland. Jolla also gave a first look at the UI of Sailfish, the mobile operating system they’ve created from the remnants of Nokia’s MeeGo project, and released an SDK.

“We need to succeed in our home market in order to succeed in foreign markets as well,” said Sami Pienimäki, a vice president at the company, in an interview with TechCrunch. The company also said that it’s partnering with ST-Ericsson on chipsets for the phones.

The brave startup, which raised about 10 million euros in capital from a private consortium of investors, is hoping that it will ultimately find success in Asia, and more specifically, China. The Chinese market, which now has about 200 million smartphones in circulation, has been more hospitable to operating systems that aren’t iOS or the standard Google-endorsed flavor of Android.

A number of Android variants like Xiaomi’s MIUI have flourished there and China has historically been one of Nokia’s strongholds. Jolla has signed a distribution deal with retailer D.Phone there and is also looking at direct-to-consumer sales online.

Pienimaki and chairman Antti Saarnio said they weren’t fazed by the billions of dollars that companies like Microsoft have poured into creating a third competitive mobile ecosystem beyond Android and iOS globally.

“Our operating system is very competitive. The UI is very consumer-friendly. The big difference in this situation with us from Microsoft or others is that Jolla doesn’t have any business legacy. We don’t have any market position. We don’t have a cost base to defend. We can have very flexible models,” Saarnio said.

The company hasn’t revealed any of its other hardware or carrier partners. “We are still in discussion with several partner candidates,” Saarnio said.

Pienimaki gave me a look at the Sailfish OS. Like Windows’ interface and Android, it has a number of tiles or widgets that can pull up contacts or messages. You unlock the phone by swiping upwards and notifications are discreetly hidden in the top right-hand corner.

“It’s done in a way that so that your notifications are private and no one can see them directly on your phone’s screen,” Pienimaki said. The OS also emphasizes multitasking with the ability to peek into other applications through these widgets. You can also change the look and the feel of the UI with different photos from your library.

The company should have a video up shortly, which I’ll add (because that’s probably a better explanation of how Sailfish looks and feels than I can put in words). Update: video is below.

Pienimaki says that while Sailfish can support tablets, smart TVs, cars and other kinds of devices, Jolla will be a smartphone company first and foremost.

“The Sailfish operating system is very scalable and we have ported it to many form factors, but we are mainly a smartphone company,” he said.

DNA, a number-three mobile operator that competes against TeliaSonera and Elisa among others in the country, is one step ahead for Sailfish but in a game where companies win on scale, it has a long way to go. DNA’s announcement of the deal notes that this is a sales and marketing partnership — terms of which have not been disclosed — that will kick in “as soon as [devices] enter the market,” and that Jolla will “target” further carrier deals going forward.