Why You Should Care About SailFish OS

Since the wild success of Android, which reached over a billion activations in 2013, we’ve seen more and more companies wanting a slice of the mobile market, with existing platforms such as Windows mobile undertaking a reboot, as well as new, open source operating systems such as FireFox OS being readied.

One of the more interesting operating systems is SailFish OS: a Linux mobile OS based on MeeGo, where navigation is predominantly achieved via gestures. It gathered a few headlines when Jolla, the first phone running SailFish OS, managed to outsell major competing handsets such as the iPhone 5S and 5C, and was the best selling phone for over 300 euros. However, these figures come from DNA, a Finnish carrier, so there may be some home ground advantage. In spite of this, the sales figures are impressive, especially for a new company.

Most new mobile OS’s usually face a "chicken and egg" problem, where consumers don’t purchase a device running the OS because there aren’t enough apps, and developers don’t create apps because there aren’t enough potential customers. We saw this with Windows Phone; it was one of the reason why I personally did not buy a Windows Phone device, despite how clean, fast, and intuitive the OS itself was.

This problem will, most likely, be less present in SailFish’s case, as it has the ability to run Android applications. While access to the Google Play Store isn’t baked in, there are already methods available online to download it, granting Jolla users access to the hundreds of thousands of apps from the Google Play Store. Although the applications are not developed specifically for SailFish, they should still give customers confidence that their smartphone is indeed smart. And when the users come, the developers should follow; building apps from the ground up for SailFish.

Something Microsoft has done really well with Windows Phone is just how consistent the OS is on different hardware, as well as being very strict on phone specifications. This helps ensure less fragmentation, unlike Android, where there are many different combinations of hardware, and software versions, which can slow development times, especially for more complex applications. I hope that Jolla, the company behind SailFish OS, emulates Microsoft in this particular instance, as it would really help the growth of their app ecosystem in the long run: developers can be sure that their application can run on all user’s devices.

As for the SailFish OS itself, it is comprised of views, with three main views laid out vertically: the lock screen, the home view, then the app drawer. Double tapping the screen wakes the phone up, and swiping left from the lock screen brings up a list of all notifications, named the "Events" view. On the "Home" view, there are "Active Covers", which act similarly to the widgets or live tiles seen on Android and Windows Phone, respectively. There aren’t any buttons so all navigation is done by gestures, which has a lot of potential. For example, a button has two states: on or off, the gesture can be in three states (potentially millions but that wouldn’t be practical), as you can perform no gesture, or perform a full gesture, or a "half" gesture. This was demonstrated when using the gesture to get back to the home view from an app: You can swipe halfway to merely peek at the home view then return to the app by releasing your finger.

Of course, it’s still in beta, so there will be bugs here and there, as well as features not being fully streamlined, but for the most part SailFish OS is looking very promising. Is it enough to truly threaten the duopoly of Android and iOS? Given time, just maybe.

As always, thanks for reading,


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