Jolla, the Finnish smartphone startup that expanded the MeeGo open source project into its own Sailfish OS, has released its first Android launcher — to give users of Google’s mobile platform a taster of what its alternative OS has to offer.
Jolla co-founder Marc Dillon, now its COO, previously told TechCrunch the startup was building an Android launcher to act as a “springboard” to showcase the capabilities of the Sailfish OS — and get potential users more familiar with the gesture-laden interface.
The Chinese market was especially front of mind for Dillon, who said reflashing mobile devices (i.e. installing a different OS to the one they came with) is “exceptionally common” in the region. Back in February he pegged the total size of the opportunity as “a hundred million at least potential”, adding: “Even a few percent of that is already a tremendous thing for a company like us.”
Jolla has maintained that Chinese focus, with the launcher landing initially on Chinese app stores Taobao and UC, as a free download. A Google Play offering will be announced “in the near future”, it added today.
To help pull in the punters, Jolla has partnered with Finland’s Angry Birds to create a Stella themed look for the software — which has the rather cumbersome title of ‘Angry Birds Stella Launcher by Jolla’.
On the Angry Birds front the launcher offers “quick access” to themed wallpaper, ringtones and unlimited access to ToonsTV. (This is, as a TC colleague pointed out, a whole lot of launchers — when you consider the Angry Birds game involves launching birds from a trebuchet: “You can launch your launcher from the launcher, to launch your birds at the pigs – all from the new launch launcher”.)
While Sailfish features supported by the launcher include the OS’ applications covers feature, which displays running apps as small cards on the device homescreen; pulley menus to access specific functions using a single finger gesture (i.e. by pulling down and releasing to select); and access to the user’s extant Android apps via Sailfish’s multitasking OS view.
Compatibility with Android apps has always been Jolla’s strategy to compete as a plucky minnow in a pond dominated by Google’s leviathan — allowing it to offer a different interface but tap into the same app pool.
Jolla also makes its own hardware too. Last month it launched its fully fledged smartphone in India, expanding the Sailfish-powered device to the second non-European market after Hong Kong. The initial launch for the handset was in Finland last November. It’s unclear how many handsets Jolla has sold thus far as it’s not breaking out sales figures.
A Jolla spokesperson said: “We’ve been pleased with how our sales have progressed this year, with successful launches in India, Hong Kong, and continuing sales in Europe.”
Jolla is evidently hoping to drive interest in that hardware in Asia by tapping into the Android ecosystem with this free launcher. Its hope is that a launcher can help smooth the learning curve to encourage people to switch from the familiarity of Android to its different interface.
“This launcher is the first separate Sailfish OS initiative in addition to Jolla phones, and we just started today with a few thousand downloads. The promotional campaign kicks off beginning of next week,” the spokesperson added.