The smartphone market is a particularly ruthless one, with duopoly between Android and iOS leading to the formal demise of Windows 10 Mobile, BlackBerry 10, webOS, Firefox OS, and Ubuntu Touch as a smartphone operating system, though like Samsung’s Tizen OS—which was last seen in 2017 in the Samsung Z4—the latter three continue to live on as Smart TV platforms.

Jolla, a Finnish company founded in 2011 by ex-Nokia employees working on MeeGo, remains as the last player in the smartphone market. Jolla only produces the Sailfish operating system, after bowing out of hardware production in 2016 following an ill-fated release of the Jolla Tablet.

SEE: Special report: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Jolla’s Sailfish OS is licensed by Russian mobile network operator Rostelecom, which brands it for domestic use as “Aurora”—also speculated to be the basis of Huawei’s “plan B” OS, in the event the beleaguered Chinese manufacturer loses access to Android as a result of economic sanctions. Similarly, Jolla announced the “Sailfish China Consortium” in 2017, which purportedly planned to create a “Sailfish OS based independent mobile operating system for the territory of China,” though to date, no product has shipped using Sailfish in China.

Given Huawei’s position as second-largest smartphone manufacturer globally, their potential adoption of Sailfish could bring millions of users to a niche, independently-developed platform. That said, conflicting rumors about Huawei’s contingency plans make this potentiality unclear, as is the likely possibility that multiple alternatives have been under development or evaluation. While it is possible Sailfish OS is further along in development than anything internally developed at Huawei, Sailfish has a long way to go to reach feature parity with iOS or Android.

What’s new in Sailfish OS 3.1?

Security is one of the most touted features of Sailfish OS—being independently developed, it is not beholden to Google’s data collection practices, around which there is a mixture of justifiable unease and fear-mongering. Sailfish OS 3.1 adds support for file system encryption—which Android gained in 2014 with the release of Lollipop. Changes to the VPN, allowing it to be enabled before activating a network connection, were also added.

Largely, updates in the release announcement relate to changes to default apps, with the Phone app being overhauled, making it “easier to use the dialer with one hand,” and providing basic and detailed views for call history. The text messaging app is also redesigned, making it “clearer and easier to know the name of the contact person.” Other updates include changes to the Clock app, as well as behavior for the document viewer, photo viewer, SIM indicator, and cursor for text editing.

So, what can run Sailfish OS today?

Sailfish X is available as an aftermarket OS for the Sony Xperia XA2 which is now out of beta with the release of Sailfish 3.1. Sailfish X includes support for running Android apps directly.

Sailfish has also been demonstrated on the Gemini PDA, a crowdfunded pocket computer styled after the Psion Series 5, and is in development for the Pinephone, a phone from the PINE64 project.

For more, check out “Windows 10 IoT Core on the Raspberry Pi 4: Will Microsoft support the $35 computer?” and “Ubuntu: What does the future look like post-Unity?” on TechRepublic.

Jolla’s Sailfish OS on a Sony Xperia smartphone.
Image: Jolla