Establishing a New Platform Is Hard
Jolla — the Finland-based independent developer of mobile platform Sailfish and related hardware — has announced that it will spin off its hardware unit to focus on its mobile platform. Jolla was founded by members of a former Nokia team that developed the Linux-based mobile operating system (OS) Maemo.
The company’s decision to stop hardware development will be a disappointment to its loyal fans after more than 20,000 supporters backed a Sailfish OS tablet via an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. The device was scheduled to ship to backers in May 2015, but the company says component supply issues have caused delays.
Jolla’s decision to move away from developing its own hardware highlights the difficulties of establishing something different in the current mobile milieu. The company has a world-class pedigree and a solid fan base, but it’s made little traction in a market dominated by two players.
The smartphone platforms segment is among the most concentrated, with Apple and Google leading in shipments and the installed user base. Android and iOS are so firmly established that companies with much larger resources struggle to make a dent. Microsoft, for example, has seen limited success in making its Windows Phone platform the third major operating system. This led Microsoft to provide the OS free of charge to hardware markers, creating an even less favourable environment for companies like Jolla.
Establishing a niche in today’s highly homogenous environment is tough despite global sales of 1.5 billion smartphones per year. Jolla describes itself as “unlike” everything else on the market, an accurate term to distinguish itself from a crowd of standardised devices. However, finding opportunities in the smartphone and tablet space is challenging. Growth is flattening while competition among Android device makers increases. Companies will need to explore new adjacent markets like media streaming devices, set-top boxes and smart TVs to find the next generation of opportunities.
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