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Sailfish gains two-way Android compatibility

Sep 17, 2013 — by Eric Brown 8,348 views

Jolla announced that its Sailfish OS is now fully compatible with Android, letting the Linux-based mobile OS run Android apps, as well as operate on hardware configured for Android. Jolla also announced that a second batch of pre-orders for its Sailfish-based Jolla phones will open later this week, after having sold out its first shipment in August.

Jolla’s announcement of Android compatibility makes the MeeGo-based Sailfish OS the first alternative mobile Linux OS to achieve the feat. Finland-based Jolla, which unveiled its dual-core, 4.5-inch Jolla phone back in May, announced two forms of Android compatibility: Jolla phones can run Android apps, and Sailfish OS can be loaded onto existing Android devices. Android app compatibility may be vital for Sailfish OS, which appears to have less corporate backing than other major mobile Linux competitors like Mozilla’s Firefox OS, Canonical’s Ubuntu Phone, and the Samsung- and Intel-backed Tizen.

Sailfish homescreen, Jolla phone
(click images to enlarge)


Not surprisingly, Google Play will not be available to Jolla users, but Jolla says it is working with major third-party app stores to provide access to Jolla phones. Considering that China is the major target market for Jolla, along with Europe, and that China is home to a thriving industry of third-party Android app stores, the deals could prove significant.


Jolla did not describe the technology used to run Android apps, but told The Register it was using a sandboxing technology. According to ZDNet, Jolla has adopted Myriad Group’s Alien Dalvik translation layer.

Jolla noted on Twitter that “Definitely, native apps are the only way to utilize the Sailfish UI to the full.” Already, Jolla has ported Android apps, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Spotify, and leading Chinese chat app WeChat to Sailfish OS.

The promised hardware compatibility, meanwhile, would make it easier for hardware vendors to experiment with Sailfish-based devices without changing chipsets. Although all the new mobile Linux OSes are designed to be ported to Android hardware, none has claimed quite the same compatibility avowed by Jolla.

Jolla CEO Tomi Pienimäki told ZDNet that no agreements have been made with vendors of compatible hardware. “We have tested quite few [Android phones] ourselves,” Pienimäki was quoted as saying. “We have simply bought a device from a shop and then installed Sailfish on it. We’re confident that you can run this on quite a few different Android hardwares.”

Jolla’s compatibility technologies are significant, of course, only if they perform as advertised. Even that may not be enough. Despite some strong reviews for the latest available Android apps on BlackBerry, which represent about a fifth of the over 100,000 BlackBerry apps now available, the QNX-based platform continues to struggle.

Other Linux-based Android alternatives:
Firefox OS; Ubuntu Phone; Tizen

(click images to enlarge)


Mobile Linux OS projects are taking different tacks toward Android compatibility, although much still remains uncertain. The only contender with shipping phones is Mozilla’s Firefox OS, which does not offer Android compatibility, but supports easy ports of the increasing number of Android apps based on HTML5. Canonical’s strategy for Android compatibility is to offer dual-boot devices that can seamlessly switch between Android and Ubuntu Phone operating systems. The least is known about Tizen, which has a strong HTML5 component, and is also expected to offer OpenMobile’s Application Compatibility Layer (ACL) sandboxing software to run Android apps.

Pre-orders part II: Finnish phones for the Finns!

Jolla also announced that after booking its earlier round of pre-orders in mid August, it will open a second round of pre-orders later this week. The new round will be limited to Finland, however, where the phones have received strong backing. The staff of Helsinki-based Jolla was drawn principally from Finland’s Nokia after the struggling mobile device maker switched its roadmap from the Linux-based MeeGo to Windows Phone.

In its compatibility announcement Jolla made note of Nokia’s recent deal to be acquired by Microsoft, and suggested the move places Jolla in a stronger position in Finland. Jolla CEO Pienimäki predicted that Finns will “express their passion for the Finnish mobile industry.”

Aside from its home base, Jolla’s strongest constituency appears to be among open source Linux developers who prefer the Qt framework that underlies Sailfish OS. Many such developers were survivors of the earlier Nokia-supported Maemo and MeeGo projects. The MeeGo project, which combined Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo, was transformed into a Tizen project that abandoned Qt and borrowed only relatively minor features from MeeGo.

Jolla backers argue that Sailfish OS is the most mature of all the mobile Linux contenders. After all, it’s based on the well-reviewed MeeGo/Mer build that appeared in the Nokia N9 phone. For the Sailfish evangelists, Firefox OS is too limited in scope, and many are concerned about the influence Samsung may have on Tizen. Meanwhile, despite Ubuntu switching to Qt, many have come to distrust what they see as Canonical’s shift away from the open source community.

Jolla will need more than Finns and open source developers to survive. It needs China, and it’s actively courting Chinese manufacturers and appstores. A July report from ZDNet said that Hong Kong telecom firm China Fortune has acquired 6.25 percent of Jolla, and that Jolla’s agreement last year with Chinese retail chain D.Phone was still alive. Jolla is also said to be looking to expand beyond its Hong Kong development center to open a center on mainland China.

Jolla Phone revisited

Jolla phone runs Sailfish OS on an unnamed dual-core processor, and is equipped with a 4.5-inch touchscreen which the company refers to as an “Estrade” display. When it ships later this year, the flagship phone will offer 16GB of storage, a microSD port, an 8-megapixel camera, and a user-replaceable battery.

The phone is primarily notable for its “Other Half” backplate option. These multi-colored backplates let carriers, resellers, or users switch the “colours, fonts, tones, and profiles” of the Sailfish OS, for example to switch from work to play profiles or to turn it into a child-friendly device. Other backplate options include automatically launching or modifying an application linked to the Other Half or linking “your favorite music or brand into your Jolla.”

Jolla with blue backplate
(click image to enlarge)


More information on the next round of pre-orders for Jolla phones should show up later this week on the Jolla home page.

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7 responses to “Sailfish gains two-way Android compatibility”

  1. webOSfan says:

    Sailfish OS is the most mature of all the mobile Linux contenders? For a site devoted to Linux it might be good to mention real projects that don’t have the backing of a major corporation – that is how open source software got started, after all. webOS shipped on millions of handsets before HP axed it. It is certainly more mature than an unreleased OS. It lives on as an open source project and would benefit from the kind of exposure that this article could have given it – if it didn’t unnecessarily omit it from the list of “contenders.”

  2. BoloMKXXVIII says:

    I wonder if this will end up competing with Cyanogen now that it is a real business. I can see Cyanogen showing up on Chinese phones from Huawei or ZTE in the not too distant future.

  3. ArtInvent says:

    Jolla, Tizen, Meego, Firefox . . . what these backers fail to articulate is the WHY? I can actually see a point to something like Ubuntu mobile, which is that you can run full Ubuntu on it on a larger screen and so run full desktop Linux programs. I can see the point to Cyanogen Mod because it brings a cleaner, more recent, more user-empowered build of Android to more devices. So what would the advantage of Sailfish be exactly? You can run Android programs with it, and you can run it on Android hardware . . . but it’s not Android. That may be a neat trick but how is it a concrete advantage?

  4. Ricardo says:

    @webOsfan: While to a certain extent I agree with you, the sad truth is that webOS is doomed and OpenwebOS doesn’t even have prospect for a shipping device. And this is Linux *Gizmos* ;-)

    And I say sad truth because I own an HP TouchPad, I love using it, and I would love to be able to update it to OpenwebOS (I refuse to install Android on it, on principle).

    Unfortunately, OpenwebOS (like other Free/Libre Linux based mobile OSes) lacks drivers for propietary hardware, so it’s dificult to even try it on current hardware.

    Let’s hope this changes in the future, so far only Jolla/Sailfish and OpenwebOS get me excited about mobile devices.


  5. J says:


    (OS2005|Maemo|Meego|Sailfish) has been shipping since 2005, 4 years before webOS.

    Also, although I enjoyed the UI, webOS was a buggy, crippled, binary blob-filled dog of a Linux.

    • webOSfan says:

      @J – point taken about Sailfish being mature.

      As far as your criticisms about the underlying architecture of webOS: my wife doesn’t care about binary blobs – to her its just a tiny computer that works. We haven’t found 2.2.4 to be all that buggy, but I can understand if you find it buggy – to each his own.

      The sad fact is that unless LG resurrects it by releasing a phone with webOS (they have a 4K TV in the works, but 77″ is too big for my pocket), that my next phone will not run the OS that my wife and I have happily used for the last four years.

      I wish Open webOS all the best in their quest to make another viable Linux distro that isn’t buggy, crippled, and filled with binary blobs. Then a wide variety of users could enjoy the very excellent UI.

  6. robert says:

    What an optimistic statement!

    It’s obvious this phone will be able to run at most some (basic) android apps, unless they rip the whole android: dalvik machine, google native daemons, google libraries, … In that case I wonder what’s the point of running the 2 os’s, eating twice the memory and resources, etc… when Android is absolutely optimized and doesn’t need anything more – and anything less. So if you want to run ALL android applications you have to include a WHOLE android system. I don’t even consider that they may be tempted to modify portions of the Android codebase and include small parts just to run the apps, that is a recipe for disaster!

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