Jolla Mobile was announced when Nokia put out its final MeeGo update for the N9 smartphone, but as CEO Jussi Hurmola says it has been in existence much longer than that.
The ex-Nokia employee feels that the multitasking capabilities of MeeGo give it an edge over Apple iOS and Google's Android. Below he talks disappointments, partnerships and inevitable patent disputes.
How many of the original MeeGo team from Nokia moved over to the company?
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We have been moving gradually. I myself in the springtime and the first people moved last year. After the announcement we have been recruiting a lot and we now have 50 people and more will be coming - the company will be about 100 people by the end of the year. More than half of those people are from Nokia's MeeGo organisation.
You set up Jolla in 2011. Did you already know at that point you would be carrying on work with MeeGo and putting it into that company?
We knew that we were going to do something. But we were still in talks with our investors and the people in the industry as to whether we can really take this on and I was still talking with Nokia about how they would take this. So last year the discussions were still a bit open on the scale and scope of Jolla but we knew that we were going to work around MeeGo. So we started the technical work already back then.
MeeGo is an open source technology. Did you licence any additional technology from Nokia that you were already working on as part of that project?
Like most of the other small companies in this area we need to licence the essential IPR [intellectual property rights], as they call it, from the holders who hold the essential IPR like UMTS and all this stuff. MeeGo is mostly IPR free and we are part of the pact that with GPL code you don't sue us. On top of that we have licenced certain assets from certain companies but I cannot comment individually about those licencing agreements.
Is Nokia one of the shareholders in Jolla?
Our shareholders are all private persons at the moment from international backgrounds and Finnish backgrounds and this is the first step we wanted to [take] because we knew that there would be many interesting changes in Jolla that we wanted to retain control of the company. That's why we are going with private investors in the first place.
I've seen the name MeeAmp talked about online in connection with Jolla. Is that another name for the Jolla OS?
It was a brand that someone in our company registered last year and apparently we are not using it. It was registered for other kinds of purposes and we may or may not use it but it is not relevant at the moment.
The software you are working on will be called Jolla OS. Is that MeeGo with your user interface placed on top of it?
To put it shortly and simply that is what it will be.
Is that interface radically different from the interface on the Nokia N9?
We want to maintain the major elements. So we want to maintain the multitasking, we want to maintain the information collection but yes it will be a Jolla UI and it will be very different from what the N9 had. The one thing I am saying about the UI is that we want to get away from the open and closed application type of UI. We want to fully take the multitasking and using the device and the UI itself for the function of information rather than just going into applications and closing. So we want to change the paradigm there.
There is a lot of talk about opening and closing apps being part of the iPhone and Android culture. So you are looking to move away from that?
Exactly. We want to take a step further. Apple and Android user interfaces are great but they have been out there for many years already so we believe we can do something new.
You were working on the Nokia N9 project when Stephen Elop said that even if the N9 proved a massive hit, Nokia will move to Windows Mobile. Was that a disappointment at the time?
From a technology point of view, yes. And from a personal point of view as well because we were all committed to this product and we all wanted to make it as good as possible. But then again we had this chance to do it anyway so even though Nokia changed its strategy we still made the N9 so I'm happy about that because I think it turned out to be a pretty nice device.
Was it always Jolla's plan to manufacture its own smartphone rather than partnering with a handset developer?
We were looking at many options when we started and one of those options was the white label thing or do devices for others, but it would have been very difficult. So from the beginning we decided that we needed to have something sustainable and visible, like our own brand. And that is what we are starting to build now.
So you are physically building a brand new handset from scratch?
With this first device we do the ID and we do the configuration, but of course [in] the hardware market there are so many references from chipset vendors and the OEMs that we don't actually have to do it from scratch. We just add our own elements to it and that's the way we can do it cheaply and quickly than would otherwise be possible.
MeeGo was previously a collaboration with Intel and Nokia. Will the device specifically use Intel chips?
MeeGo supports ARM and Intel and quite a few chipsets [but] I cannot yet reveal the chipset vendor we are partnering with.
If someone else is building the phone, are you worried about the amount of smartphone manufacturers currently suing each other at the moment?
We need partners for the essential IPR but in the modern world anybody can sue anyone basically. At some point probably these kinds of things will happen but I think it happens after we have taken our position in the market. I don't think people yet have the time or interest to come after us.
As I said already, the essence of our IPR is the open source part and then our user interface that anybody can have any kind of patent and then it's only for the courtrooms to sort those two out. But I think we can partner and licence enough assets that there shouldn't be any special problems for Jolla.
You've already announced a deal in China that will see the phones distributed there. Are you in talks with other companies in other countries at the moment?
We are in talks with distributors, retailers and operators as those are the major channels that you need to secure well ahead of when you start to show the phone. So yes we are talking to these people.
In China the phone will be sold through retailers, in Europe the model seems more to be to partner with operators. Is that likely?
That's the European way to go, through operators. And then of course there's the open channels and many devices are being sold through those channels like web shops. But the operators have a major position in the values in Europe.
Jolla is working on a website at the moment. Will that be an ecommerce site where you sell the handsets as well?
Let's see when we launch it. At least we will open the developer community and other interactive things through the website and let's see when we can actually go to the commercial side.
Jolla has already said it will create an app store. Will that run on a similar model to Apple's App Store and Android's Google Play?
That app store concept will be ready with the first product. We need to have an app store and an application ecosystem in order to make a serious smartphone. Partnering there is our biggest thing.
So in different areas like in China or in Europe there are different places where people go for their applications and content. Of course now Apple is dominating everything from the bottom up in their ecosystem. But if you look at the Android ecosystems in China, for example, they actually have many versions of content and applications stores etc. And now when we have an independent MeeGo ecosystem we have a possibility to work with partners and channels like operators and others to work out something valuable for both of us.
That's what I mean by partnering. It would be a massive effort for Jolla to suddenly ramp up global app stores in many languages from scratch so that is another thing where we get speed by partnering. But we will reveal more when we come out with the phone itself.
Was that the plan from day one?
It became pretty clear soon when we were talking to operators and big industry players. There is a feeling that Android and Apple are pushing everybody else to a tight place and we wanted to open up the ecosystem not only from a source point of view but from a business and value chain point of view and make a difference there.
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