Against the background of news about problems Huawei, I decided to remember how alternatives appeared on the market Android – a text about Ubuntu Touch has already been released. As the next topic, I chose Sailfish OS, which eventually turned into a domestic system under the name Aurora. In addition, there are rumors that Huawei is testing it on their smartphones.
The story Sailfish OS has its roots in Nokia, where a small development team worked on the MeeGo operating system, which many still fondly remember. 2011 was a turning point in Nokia's history – it began to gradually abandon Symbian and develop an alternative MeeGo in favor of Windows Phone under the influence of Microsoft. The development team did not like this decision and they created their own company Jolla to continue the idea of MeeGo.
The first version Sailfish OS was presented a year later – in November 2012, a video appeared with a presentation of the appearance and some standard applications. The system predominantly uses a semi-transparent interface and gestures. For example, a menu with additional functions is launched not with a separate button, but with a swipe from top to bottom.
Sami Pienimäki, one of the founders of Jolla, said in an interview that many liked their project, but no one believed in its commercial success. To show the rest of the manufacturers what Sailfish OS is capable of, the company decided to release its own smartphone. To do this, it was necessary not only to develop the device itself, but also to prepare the system – to collect a basic set of programs and functions, create an application store and attract third-party developers.
A new beginning
Already in February 2013, the Jolla team attended the MWC exhibition with the first smartphone prototype at Sailfish OS. This demonstration was primarily aimed at investors and potential partners of the company. Ordinary visitors of the exhibition were shown the new system on the Nokia N9 smartphone, which originally worked on MeeGo.
Sailfish OS on Nokia N9 / still from YouTube video of user MFaroTusino
In the same month, Jolla found its first investor, China Fortune holding, which bought out 6.25% of the shares for 1 million euros.
Three weeks after the show, representatives of ST-Ericcson, the chip supplier for Jolla, called Sami Pienimäki and said they were going out of business. This was a problem because Jolla had promised investors to release the smartphone before the end of the year. The developers had to urgently redesign the architecture Sailfish OS to work with modern mobile processors from Qualcomm, MediaTek and other manufacturers. And they succeeded.
The Jolla smartphone was released in November 2013. He received a budget Snapdragon 400 processor, 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. It stood out due to Sailfish OS. The system already had a set of the most popular applications – the Opera and Firefox browsers, WhatsApp, Twitter, Skype, etc.
In the same month, Jolla enlisted the support of Yandex. The company has promised to move to Sailfish OS its app store, which was originally developed under Android as an alternative to Google Play. This was an easy solution because Sailfish OS now has support for Android – applications. If desired, even Google Play could be installed in Sailfish OS, so there were no problems in this regard.
Jolla decided to show that Sailfish OS is a universal system, so in November 2014 the company entered the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform with the first Jolla Tablet . It was planned to collect only 380 thousand dollars, but it turned out to attract 2.5 million. The project was successful.
Jolla Tablet is an 8-inch tablet powered by Sailfish OS and Intel Atom processor. Unlike the first smartphone, which was created in a hurry and turned out to be ambiguous, the Jolla tablet was more like a final product. By this time Sailfish OS had developed to version 2.0, support for applications from Android was working and app stores from Jolla itself and partners appeared.
It turns out the successful launch of the new company Jolla. They have an operating system, an app store, a phone, and a tablet. The media spoke well of Sailfish OS and some seriously considered it as an alternative Android, with thousands of people pre-ordered. It remains only to further develop the product and promote it on the market in order to find partners. And they succeeded – the company signed a contract with the Indian manufacturer Intex for the release of smartphones with Sailsfish OS.
The preorders were supposed to ship the tablets in April 2015, but a week earlier Jolla had posted a message that the company was forced to postpone shipping to the end of July. It turned out that right before the start of production with Jolla, the supplier of memory modules and display terminated the contract. Problems started.
Let's step back a little. At the end of 2014, Jolla carried out another sale of shares for 10 million euros. The company did not disclose its new investors. Then it turned out that among the investors was the Russian businessman Grigory Berezkin, the founder of the ESN company. How much he invested in Jolla is unknown, but in future interviews he called the system Sailfish OS 'his'.
In May 2015, news appeared on RBC that Russia wants to create its own alternative to Android and iOS. Only the development will not start from scratch, but they will take the ready-made Sailfish OS open source and begin to develop according to their goals. It turns out a mutually beneficial alliance – for Jolla it means additional money and audience, and Russia gets the opportunity to turn the Finnish system into a domestic product for import substitution.
The founder of the company, Anti Saarnio, tried to refute rumors that Russia will create its own operating system based on their product. He confirmed that there had been a meeting with Russian Minister Nikolai Nikiforov, but he misunderstood the essence of the discussion. In general, Saarnio said that he saw no reason to create a domestic OS and that investors did not influence the development process. In the future, it turned out that the founder was cunning or he misunderstood the conversation with Nikiforov.
In fact, not only Russia had plans to build its own system based on Sailfish OS. They also wanted to create a safe analogue of Android and iOS for the European Union, but this idea did not go further than discussions.
Meanwhile Sailfish OS was no longer just a Finnish system, a whole alliance was created on its basis. The company simply named it – Sailfish OS alliance. It included Russia, China, Japan and India, and they also invited everyone to join them. Sailfish OS is considered an open system, but it uses only a few modules based on open source, and some of the components remain closed and the rights to it belong to Jolla itself.
This is what the building looks like Sailfish OS. Open source components are green, and closed components are purple. In many ways, this scheme repeats Android from Google and its open AOSP version. Therefore, it is difficult to use only the open source part Sailfish OS without Jolla licensing – many modules will have to be written from scratch.
2015 was a challenging year for Jolla. There were problems with the supply of parts for the tablet and none of the large companies agreed to change Android to Sailfish OS, and at this time the investors' money ran out and losses began. As a solution, the company changed its strategy – it was decided to abandon hardware products in order to focus on the development and promotion of the operating system.
In the second half of 2015, Jolla talked with an unknown investor who was supposed to contribute another 10 million euros, but this did not happen. Therefore, in November, the company laid off half of its staff of approximately 100 people and went to court in Finland to restructure its debts.
The situation with the tablet also got more complicated. Debts were added to the problems with the supply of components, so in 2015 Jolla released a little over a hundred tablets. In 2016, 540 more tablets were collected, and then the company announced the closure of the Jolla Tablet project – those who pre-ordered were promised to return the money as soon as possible.
Despite the new Jolla strategy – in May 2016 the company nevertheless presented a new smartphone. But it was intended more for fans and developers than for the mainstream. In fact, Jolla C has become a copy of the Indian Intex Aqua Fish smartphone under a new brand.
In the summer of 2016, news appeared that Jolla, together with the company of the investor Grigory Berezkin, would release three domestic smartphones at once on Sailfish OS. This is how we learned about the allegedly Russian smartphones “Ermak” on the Russian system. In fact, from the Russian in Jolla and Sailfish OS there was only Grigory Berezkin's money. Eldar Murtazin wrote in more detail about the situation with Jolla and 'Ermaky' in spillikins, there is no point in repeating.
In November 2016 Sailfish OS was added to the Unified Register of Russian Programs, becoming the only state-owned mobile system. The government explained this by issues of information security and a monopoly on the mobile systems market, where Android and iOS were consolidated. However, no one specified that Sailfish OS is a mostly closed system, which was created in Finland, not in Russia.
The first smartphones based on the 'domestic' Sailfish Mobile OS Rus system appeared under the 'Other' brand. It was planned to start selling 500 thousand domestic smartphones, even the Russian Post placed an order for a batch of 15 thousand units as mobile terminals. But the plans were actually broader – the manufacturer estimated the demand for domestic smartphones at 55 million: 5 million for the public sector, 10 million for business and 40 million for niche consumers (schoolchildren, educational organizations, retirees). In reality, everything turned out to be not so good.
The most interesting thing is that the Inoi R7 is suspiciously similar in characteristics to the Jolla C, which in turn has become a copy of the Indian Intex smartphone. The screen, processor and even the battery capacity are completely the same – see the comparison. It looks like they used the same blank, just replaced the body.
And another interesting fact – after the release of the first smartphone on Sailfish OS, Inoi abandoned this system in favor of Android.
They tried to make Sailfish a state system not only in Russia, but also in China. For this, Jolla signed licensing agreements in February 2017 and admitted to the Sailfish China consortium. In return, the consortium members planned to invest $ 250 million in the development of the system in China. As the story between Huawei and Google shows, they never succeeded in replacing Android.
Already in April 2017, there were rumors that Rostelecom wanted to buy out the Sailfish system from Grigory Berezkin, since he owns most of the shares in Jolla. Then Berezkin valued the asset at $ 50 million, which is 20 times less than how much Facebook paid for Instagram.
In early March 2018, it was officially announced that Rostelecom was purchasing Sailfish developers from Berezkin. The amount of the transaction was not disclosed, we only have a figure of $ 50 million – this is how Berezkin himself estimated this asset a year before the transaction.
In August 2018, the Kommersant newspaper published a large note on how Sailfish OS are planned to be introduced into the Russian budget. As usual, there are big plans – by 2021 they want to transfer 8 million users in Russia to Sailfish OS, we are only talking about civil servants. They want to spend 160 billion rubles only on transferring from foreign smartphones to “domestic” ones. Additionally, they planned to allocate 2.3 billion for the finalization of the system.
A little later in October, Rostelecom began preparations for testing the newly acquired Sailfish OS. To do this, the company bought 8,000 already very outdated Inoi R7 smartphones and 1,200 Inoi T8 tablets – it cost 110 million rubles. On top of this, another 6.4 million was spent on testing.
The third version Sailfish OS was released only in 2018. It can be installed on the first Jolla smartphone, Jolla C and several Sony smartphones as an alternative and for a fee. For this, Jolla came up with a new format – Sailfish X. The company took an unprecedented step and decided to sell a mobile system. It could be bought for 50 euros and installed on one of Sony's smartphones. The problem is that to install, you had to unlock the bootloader and install the firmware manually.
Sony Xperia X with Sailfish X installed
For those who once installed a custom one Android, installing Sailfish X is not a problem, but a regular user would not go for it. And buying an operating system for a smartphone sounds like a very strange idea. Even Microsoft and Apple have already given up selling system updates for computers. So it's no surprise that this idea didn't take off either.
However, there is one important detail. Sailfish OS for the rest of the world and the Russian Sailfish Mobile OS Rus are different systems. The domestic version was created on the basis of some licenses of the Jolla company, therefore, for example, it does not have the Alien Dalvik component – it is responsible for launching applications on Android. This can be found in the reviews of the Inoi R7.
But in February 2019, it was announced that Sailfish Mobile OS Rus was changing its name to the more familiar Aurora for Russians. And in June, more recent news appeared – allegedly Huawei was discussing the transition from Android to the Aurora and is already testing smartphones on the Russian system. This is hard to believe, given that Huawei has been developing its own OS since 2012. Most likely, there was some discussion, but when retelling the facts, the facts were slightly exaggerated.
At the moment there is no information that anyone other than Russian Post and Rostelecom itself ordered smartphones on the domestic system. This is all that the developers have achieved in two years from the moment Sailfish became the only domestic mobile system – 23 thousand smartphones.
The situation may change in 2019. In May, Rostelecom closed a tender for the purchase of 300,000 smartphones based on the domestic Aurora system for 2.8 billion rubles. And this is just the beginning. In the same month, Rostelecom lowered expectations – according to the new plan, in 2021 there should be 1.4 million civil servants with smartphones on the domestic system, although initially they talked about 8 million. Even with a fourfold reduction in the plan, the transition to domestic mobile software was estimated at 160 billion rubles.
And here it is important to take into account that it is necessary not only to collect a certain number of smartphones on the domestic Aurora. They still need to be maintained and software developed for them – this also requires money and rather big ones. VTB Bank has already opened a tender for the development of a mobile application for Sailfish OS for 2.4 million rubles. And this is not as much as it might seem. Another order came from the domestic search engine Sputnik – they want to create a Digital Installer app for 2 million.
After 6 years of development, Sailfish OS is hard to perceive as a serious alternative to Android or iOS. It has all the basic functions and even normal support Android – applications, but no main thing – the audience. Without users, the development of the operating system is impossible, it is more like a cry into the void. All these years, developers have been releasing updates, focusing on the reviews of hundreds, maybe thousands of users who, for the sake of interest, set themselves an alternative system. At the same time, you can install Sailfish OS on a limited range of Android – smartphones, and it is very difficult to buy a smartphone with a pre-installed system from Jolla.
Over time Sailfish OS has become a toy for geeks and Russian officials. It is difficult to say now whether Aurora will be able to become a worthy replacement for foreign alternatives, at least for government agencies. Because it seems that they are no longer going to turn it into a mass product.