In February 2016, Intex unveiled the Aqua Fish phone running Sailfish OS 2.0. In addition, Jolla revealed that the team behind Fairphone -- a handset with sustainably sourced materials -- was considering its platform. The company knew, though, that it needed to make some drastic changes to survive. So it laid off its hardware division and cancelled the tablet, promising refunds once its financial situation improved. It was a difficult, but necessary decision to avoid the fate of so many other alternative operating systems. Competing with Google and Android head-on, the team realized, was business suicide.
Instead, Jolla doubled-down on its licensing strategy. This time, though, it focused on enterprise customers that require secure, reliable hardware for their employees. The work wouldn't be glamorous, but it would bring in the revenue required to pay the team and development of Sailfish OS.
"We want to see our platform alive," Marko Saukko, chief engineer at Jolla said. "That keeps us going, and that got us through those ups and down we had. When we had the low moment, and the team size was reduced a little bit, we still kept on going. We still had energy left and we were able to push from the bottom back up."
"We want to see our platform alive."
Jolla's pitch was simple: If you license Sailfish, you get full access to the source code. Pienimäki claims that none of its rivals offer this level of transparency. Even the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) comes with "proprietary stuff" that privacy-focused companies -- and governments with a distaste or distrust of America -- would prefer to avoid. "That really sets us apart from everybody else," Pienimäki said. Sailfish OS, the company hoped, would become synonymous with security.
"It's that, combined with the fact that we are doing this in open source with the global Sailfish community," Pienimäki added. "The base platform that we create will always be open, and that's the foundation of trustworthy operation."
Later that year, Jolla's platform achieved "official status" with Russia. In a press release, the Finnish company declared it was the "only mobile operating system" that had been "officially accepted to be used in governmental and government-controlled corporations." Jolla sees the country as a huge opportunity. There is a "very sizeable" bubble of kremlin-controlled companies, according to Pienimäki, which Jolla hopes to win over. "Those are big companies, and that's definitely a target in Russia."
Since then, Jolla has inked deals in China -- a country that, like Russia, has a difficult relationship with Google -- and Latin America. In practice, it works a little something like this: Jolla will issue its source code to local partners who liaise with enterprise customers and provide the final hardware. Clients will request services, or features, that Jolla then solves with tools, or "enablers," in Sailfish OS. It could be a mobile device management framework, or an open VPN solution -- mundane features to the average consumer, but critical for secure business communications.
"A good example is security algorithms," Pienimäki said. "We don't do security algorithms for our clients, because typically they want to use their local partners to harden some communication systems. So something like that, in the platform, we'll only do enablers and tell them that, 'Okay here is an API and here you can put your local security algorithm.'"