Sailfish Lands in Asia

Jolla’s Deal with 3 in Hong Kong Could Grow

Jolla_lIf you’re competing against Coke and Pepsi, you don’t necessarily want to come to market with another cola when you could be a Red Bull and create your own product class. It looks like Finland-based Jolla could energise the market with something different enough for the company to create its own slice of the pie. Challenges remain, and it isn’t alone in wanting to grab a niche, but could recent developments for the company lead it to become the Red Bull of the smartphone industry?

Last month, Jolla announced that it would soon enter the Indian smartphone market by selling its Jolla phone in partnership with online retailer Snapdeal. The seller says it’s creating a notification list for the Jolla smartphone, a move looking to emulate the excitement built by limited sales of the Xiaomi Mi 3. Searches for “Jolla” on Snapdeal’s Web site came up empty, and finding Jolla’s own notification page required some digging. Pricing information is not provided by Snapdeal, but the phone is likely to be above 20,000 rupees, putting it at the high end of the market (while Flipkart sells Xiaomi’s Mi 3 for 14,000 rupees).

Yesterday in Hong Kong, sales of the Jolla phone began through 3 at the unlocked price of HK$2,888 ($373). The sum may be unusual, but the number eight is considered lucky in Chinese tradition and this is a reminder that local cultures need to be taken into account when expanding into new markets. The phone is also available as a subsidized device. Hutchison Whampoa, 3’s parent company, is based in Hong Kong, and Jolla executives are hoping that a positive reception here could lead to deals with Hutchison Whampoa in other markets, including with 3-branded operators in Europe.

Hong Kong could be a stepping stone for Jolla — going East could be a boost in the West. The company has already been well-received in several European markets, but working with Hutchison Whampoa could lead to deals with 3 in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and the UK. These are markets with high smartphone penetration rates, so sales would require a niche of technology enthusiasts.

Jolla’s tenacity and success has been impressive, and its agility should be emulated by larger tech companies (see Jolla’s Small-Scale Approach to Tackling Android). The manufacturer is using the 3 Hong Kong deal as an indication that it’s becoming the third market player after Android and iOS — a good marketing statement but one that’s certainly too optimistic. Windows Phone, even with the backing of Microsoft, is struggling to pick up any share other than market crumbs left behind by Google and Apple, an indication of how difficult this market position is. Jolla’s Sailfish OS is not alone in being a different platform, rivalled by Tizen, Firefox OS, Ubuntu Touch and many independent Android builds. However, Jolla could get lucky in Hong Kong with an expanded relationship with 3. It would be refreshing for the global market.