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Suggestion: Make the Jolla a true mobile Linux computer

asked 2015-02-16 03:43:23 +0200

00prometheus gravatar image

updated 2015-02-16 16:04:15 +0200

I have had a feeling for a long time about a tug-of-war in the design and marketing of the Jolla. It is strongly marketed as having an open source OS that is secure from the prying eyes of Big Powers(tm). This has attracted a strong following among coders and tinkerers. At the same time, it is clear that the Jolla wants to create an OS directed mainly to a wide audience. This creates a drive towards a device the 'Just Works' and is pretty and shiny.

Now, the way I see it, these two goals are by no means mutually exclusive, however I can't shake the feeling that Jolla is leaning more towards the general public than the developers group.

There is always the obvious advantage of directing yourself to a larger market rather than a smaller one ("increase just one percent market share in this huge market and we make a lot more phones"), but I think that idea is faulty at the moment. The general phone and tablet market is totally saturated by very heavy hitters, and market share there is completely controlled by how much is spent on marketing. That is an arena where Jolla just can not compete - they simply don't have the capital muscle to make even a miniscule 1% dent. No matter how good a user experience the Jolla has, it is not inherently so much better than iOS or Android that it can make any advance in the general phone market. Even a company like Microsoft is making slow progress; they will eventually market themselves into a reasonable share, but the cost of doing so is staggering!

There is a saying: "It is better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond". If you can find a space where you can dominate - even if it is smaller, it is much better than loosing in a bigger space. The space where Jolla is in position to dominate - I would even say that they are the lead player right now - is the "Linux distros on mobile devices" space. Linux distros are able to support reasonably large companies, like Redhat, Suse and Canonical, and once you get to being a company the size of Redhat (with more than 7000 employees) you are clearly in a better position to attack the general mobile market than Jolla is now.

So rather than gunning for the end-game directly - a play I think is completely doomed - I would like to see Jolla working its way up, step by step, through markets of increasing size. They shouldn't loose sight of the end goal, keep the OS nice and friendly for the casual user, but make really, really sure that it is perfectly right for the market you are currently targeting!

So my suggestion is to take a page from the Nokia N900 marketing. Do not think of the Jolla as a mobile phone. Think of it as a true mobile Linux computer! Do not think of Sailfish OS as primarily a platform to build a popular phone experience on, think of it primarily as a Linux distribution! To do that, you must think of the difference between what makes a popular mobile phone and what makes a popular Linux distribution - and if Jolla thinks hard about that difference, including assigning people with deep experience on the two aspects, I think the twist will go more in the direction of the market they can take right now, rather than the hazy future market they want in the end game.

Update just to clarify: I am not looking to limit the Jolla to coders only. I am talking about putting focus on the coders' market. What I am suggesting isn't a radical course change, it is merely continuing in the same direction but changing the view's focus to what is close by, rather than the distant future. The "Mobile Computer Linux Distro" is an immediately attainable market, one where Jolla already has a strong position. Grasping that market whole-heartedly and exploiting its full potential is a quick win. So I am not saying that Jolla should let the phone/tablet capabilities slide; Jolla makes phones and tablets and they need to work - this is true even when coders buy them, it is after all the primary purpose of the device. What I am saying is that the developer capabilities can not play second fiddle. The shell experience needs to be as excellent as the rest of the experience. Jolla out-of-the box doesn't even have man-page support right now! If given a choice, how many geeks would keep that distro installed on their computer for more than five minutes?

We are coders, so when forced to we can fix the issues we have, but do we feel that the device is for us? No - it creates the feeling that we are allowed into a system that is really intended for someone else. That is the sense I would like to change.

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I believe, we should leave the strategy to Jolla leadership team (and investors). I think what matters now is adding some important features (that are lacking atm) to OS and releasing the tablet on schedule.

anandrkris ( 2015-02-16 05:50:02 +0200 )edit

The N900 was primarily a useful smartphone for me, not a mobile Linux box. I prefer to have an open Linux core, but I would not buy any such device without meaningful functional applications. Could Jolla sell more devices if they market them as "Linux computer"? I doubt. Jolla must get out of the post-beta state, finish half ready apps like calendar, connection management, and some other, add functions hard to find on some other platforms, like full SIP integration, and they will be able to sell enough devices.

Stefanix ( 2015-02-16 08:46:20 +0200 )edit

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answered 2015-02-16 09:27:24 +0200

t-lo gravatar image

updated 2015-02-16 09:27:40 +0200

The Jolla phone already isa true mobile Linux computer: There are tons of packages available via Openrepos, if one wants to use those. There's an option of having your own package repositories, "Ubuntu PPA" style, complete with automated builds, via the OBS at merproject.org. Jolla developers regularly talk about open source development at FOSS conferences, so there's visibility, too.

It's not helping the sales much, though. Chances are the "handheld Linux computer" isn't big enough a market to sustain a company like Jolla.

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I second this opinion, the market share of Jolla is already/still by far too small - placing it as "Linux distro" would finally push it into to "gadgeteer" and "free" corner without any chance for commercial success....

Manankanchu ( 2015-02-16 12:54:38 +0200 )edit

Thanks for your great answer; it made me update the question. As you say, the Jolla can be made to work for a developer, but the same can be said of any Turing Complete device. On Android, you can go with Cyanogenmod and get a device with developer capabilities. What I am saying is that Jolla should give developers the sense that the device is for them, just like the sense you have when you install a Linux distro. That is the core of marketing; get your target group to feel that the product is made for them. The developer's market is certainly large enough for Jolla to expand for a good while - look at Canonical with 500 employees, or Redhat with 7000 employees - but to grasp a market you need to focus on it!

00prometheus ( 2015-02-16 15:53:18 +0200 )edit

IMNSHO, the Jolla phone is far from a true Linux computer. It is a phone and a media consumption device, nothing else. In this regard there is little difference between a Jolla and an iPhone or any Android. Sure there are differences: a novel UI, the OS that lurks inside... but those are merely implementation details. Tthe primary purpose of the device is the same.

To call a device a computer, it has to do more than browse the web, read emails and play your ripped music. A computer is a production device, the Jolla phone is a consumption one. It is difficult to write even a simple email or a forum post like this on it, let alone a letter to your MP. Not to mention other tasks I would expect from and regularly do on my home computer (NB with the same amount of RAM as I carry in my pocket - how come that one never runs out of memory?): authoring DVDs, editing and printing bottle labels for my home-produced beer, writing and debugging software...

This is not just a software issue, such as the lack of good apps. This is deeply inherent in the design. If it had a hardware keyboard and a precision input device (a resistive screen) like e.g. the N900, then it would be better suited for producing content (yes, TOHKBD addresses the first issue but nothing can address the second). As it is, the Jolla phone is not and can ever be a "true mobile Linux computer". Let it reside in its niche where it belongs and where it feels at home.

pichlo ( 2015-02-16 16:09:16 +0200 )edit

@pichlo I think you hit the sense spot on! The Jolla, as it stands, is not a true Linux computer. However, I am more optimistic on what can be done about the situation. I think it is far from a lost cause; in fact I think it can be fixed with just some work on the shell-experience, the choice of pre-installed packages, a serious developers repo supplied by Jolla and of course a TOHKBD :-)

The touch screen vs pen pointing is really more about what the UI is adapted for. You will never be running unmodified X apps anyway, since the 4.5" screen is simply too small for the X-windows UI design. Not that I would mind having a high quality (better than Galaxy Note) capacitive pen included! Also, with a TOHKBD, the UI can begin to make heavy use of keyboard shortcuts, allowing a much wider range of applications to be useful.

00prometheus ( 2015-02-16 16:20:11 +0200 )edit

I'm afraid that would still not be enough. This time, it is the very things that make Sailfish Sailfish that stand in the way. Yes, the swipe interface. Much as I like it and find it is convenient on a handheld device - I find myself subconsciously trying to swipe on other devices, that's how intuitive it has become - you cannot make an office suite or a GIMP clone if you limit yourself to only 4 menu options. Heck, even simple text editors or file browsers suffer when they have to display a content longer than a couple of screens. Just try to access the menu in such a situation without scrolling all the way to the top or bottom and losing your current position. Keyboard shortcuts would definitely help but they are not an answer to everything.

pichlo ( 2015-02-17 09:07:30 +0200 )edit
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Asked: 2015-02-16 03:43:23 +0200

Seen: 1,110 times

Last updated: Feb 16 '15