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Jolla launches a community device program for its Sailfish mobile OS

TechCrunch TechCrunch 27/05/2016 Natasha Lomas

Just when you thought Finnish mobile OS maker Jolla had given up on making its own mobile hardware, given its recent financing troubles which led to it having to shutter a planned tablet, it gets back in the game — albeit with a limited run of 1,000 smartphones intended for developers and enthusiasts of its platform to test the latest and beta releases of its Sailfish OS.

The community handset is called Jolla C, and has been priced at €169 — with shipping limited to Europe. All 1,000 handsets sold out yesterday, on the day the program was announced to the Sailfish community. Jolla says it’s looking to see if it can expand the size of the initiative. Devices are slated to ship to buyers in July.

Specs wise the 4G handset looks much like Indian OEM Intex’s Sailfish powered Aqua Fish smartphone with a 5-inch display, 2GB of RAM, a 1.3GHz Qualcomm processor and Sailfish 2.0. While the platform is compatible with Android apps, the Jolla C intentionally ships without any third party content — to offer the “purest” OS experience.

For this developer-focused device Jolla is abandoning The Other Half hardware feature found on its debut smartphone — which had been an attempt to differentiate a handset by including swappable back plates and an internal connector that could support powered add ons on the rear of the device, such as keyboards or e-ink screens.

The hardware is really not the point here though. The program is a move by Jolla to further foster the Sailfish developer community to pull in energy and ideas, as community manager James Noori notes in a blog about the initiative: “With this program and the Jolla C device, we are going to focus on the software side of things and encourage the community to develop more for Sailfish OS itself.”

Jolla has been pushing an OS licensing business strategy in recent years, and has signed up OEMs in India and Africa to put out devices running Sailfish. It also has interest in Russian.

As part of its community device program, which is slated to run until May 2017, Jolla C buyers will be invited to live online community sessions. A limited group of first registrants will also be invited to attend an International Sailfish Community Event, set to take place in Helsinki next month. 

Jolla announced it had finally closed a $12 million Series C round earlier this month, having struggled to get the necessary funds at the back end of last year. The developer program does risk raising a few eyebrows about Sailfish enthusiasts given that Jolla had to cancel its planned tablet — and is running an extended refund program for the vast majority of pre-orderers who won’t get the slate. Some of whom will have to wait until next year for their refund. Yet it’s now taking in more pre-order money from backers.

Responding to this point and another about the cost of the Jolla C on its community forum, Jolla’s head of comms said it had “very much” hoped to be able to give devices free to developers but its financial situation “just does not allow this”. He added that Jolla has “set the price as low as we could”, and is not making any profit on the Jolla C.

“Using the second part of the tablet refunds for this [i.e. to fund a free Jolla C developer device] does not really work, since we need to finance our operations until the next financing round at the end of the year — unfortunately this is the reality we live in,” he adds.

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