Interview of Jussi Hurmola, Jolla Mobile’s managing director

Meego veterans who departed from Nokia announced their new company in July. This came as a surprise and I got rather interested. Therefore I interviewed CEO of the company for my Tietokone magazine blog. This is English version of the story.

Managing Director Jussi Hurmola, why did Jolla came out just now?

– Jolla has been operating since the end part of last year. Announcement as of now focuses on publicing the fact that we are creating smart phones and their ecosystem. We are now launching our brand and growing it. This way we will facilitate the way forward. At this point we are able to publish some of our partners. Partners are important – without them we can’t operate.

On this morning Jolla announced partnership to sell phones in China. Resellers are according to Helsingin Sanomat and Talouselämä D.Phone Group, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. According to Hurmola there has been some interest in Finland, but he can’t reveal details. He however hints that as a Finnish company it would be a miracle if the company won’t be selling their products also in Finland and in Europe. However he can’t reveal Jolla’s ODM and business vendors as they are related to product specifications.

What is the logic of Jolla’s business? Will the concept be sold to some already existing operator who has production chain and sales network already in place, or are you building those by yourself?

– Jolla aims for creating smart phones and our business is to sell those. We are not directly competing with established players but instead want to create an alternative. Our niche is to produce something new to the market.

What kind of consumer segment are you after? Is the coming phone intended only for Linux geeks?

– Our first phone is coming up later this year. And because in this market it is very difficult to operate as a small company we intend to become a serious player.

– The phone will be a smart phone for mass market. It will not be a tech phone intended for Linux hackers. Consumers are not able to hack kernel or flash new software for the device.

– We are however planning on creating a development version of the phone for open source community, those interested in Linux and open systems and for partners.

What is your financial background? What kind of revenue are you after? How about profitability?

– At this moment Jolla is a small company who aims to become as a significant player in the market. We aim to increase our revenue and profitability gradually. And as we intend to manufacture the devices by ourselves, our need for capital and funding is greater than in a software company.

– We have had discussions with investors and it has become quite clear that it is very difficult to operate as a small company. Therefore we have big plans for growth.

Hurmola tells that their first venture capital round funding is arranged, but he won’t reveal plans for revenue and profitability until the product is published and market reactions for that can be observed.

It took Nokia several years to create the first Meego phone N9 and finally it was actually a half-meego Maemo. How on earth are you planning on creating a real Meego phone so quickly? Why did it take so long with Nokia?

The question amuses Hurmola.

– We used to be the people who created Meego at Nokia and know all too well what went wrong with the process. At Jolla we are concentrating on doing just one thing and rely heavily on partners.

– Nokia published its last Meego update ( a couple of weeks ago. Open Source community is involved and has been continuing the work with Mer and Maemo distributions. A lot of work has been done and community has stuck together.

What is the situation with Meego’s rights? Only part of Meego code is open source. Can you really make Meego based phones or do you have to re-implement something by yourself? Did Nokia sell you some parts of the code?

– Jolla’s software stack is quite similar to all other smart phone manufacturers. Most of our code is open source (Meego, Qt and ophono). In order to make a phone one however needs a number of foundation technologies like chipset, GSM, UMTS and UI codes. We have licenced these from markets in similar manner to other smart phone makers.

– What sets Jolla’s phone apart from other makers is our user experience. And that is done by us.

Hurmiola answers my question about Nokia’s legacy code base in a bit cryptic way.

– We have licenced certain assets, but I can’t go into details on them and their sources.

What does Open Source mean for you?

Almost everybody at Jolla has open source background either in software or in hardware. Linux is an established and leading technology. For example Android is based on Linux.

– Jolla’s foundation is on rpm based Mer Linux distribution. Qt is heavily involved and we think Qt is the best platform for creating good user experience. It enables us to implement good user interface quickly.

– It is already possible to create a smartphone almost fully as an open source. For example Phone Stack enables creation of cell connections and making calls.

– Jolla intends to donate as much of its code back to the open source community and this way develop the ecosystem. We do not want to own the ecosystem but lead it.

Are you not afraid on what happened with Open Moko?

– It is true that we have not heard too much from Open Moko for quite some time. But one has to remember that Jolla’s main goal is not to create an open source phone. We aim to create a competitive smart phone who almost everybody would want for himself. Open Source is just an element that enables creating such a device.

– We are not afraid of Open Moko’s fate. Jolla’s team is the best in business and the ecosystem needs several players anyway.

In YLE’s Päivän kasvo show you talked about enabling /facilitating. This is Nokia-speak. What do you really mean by that?

– In the market there are several players who are offering internet packet services. They are having hard time with Android and iOS. In addition some resellers, developers and operators are looking for alternatives for dominating ecosystems and want to create something new.

– In our opinion consumers also want to experience something new with their devices’ user interface. Thus enabling this does not mean just creating components but to actually create a ready product from start to end.

– Facilitating refers to creation of a modern smart phone that is based on independent and open platform.

Can you tell us anything on the upcoming device? Will there be a physical keyboard and what SoC will you be using?

– Sorry, can’t help you – yet. When the time comes to announcing the device, we will announce it. Until then information provided is rather limited. For example I can’t tell you anything about possible partnership with Intel.

– Details about schedule are neither available. I can only tell that the device announcement (telling that this-and-this device is coming) will be made in this year. But I can’t promise that the device will hit Christmas market. We are careful on purpose.

You mentioned that Jolla’s phone provides unique user experience. What will you do better than iOS, Windows Phone and Android? Or what do you think are their biggest falls?

– Jolla aims to create something fresh compared to iOS and Android. We want to bring in the parts of Meego that were liked: native multitasking, application integration and data integration. I am using N9 myself for all my mobile work tasks and I enjoy the fact that all applications are always open.

– We want to get rid of the user flow where users are starting and shutting down applications. Also the user interface must be customizable.

Doesn’t Windows Phone already work like this?

– Windows Phone multitasking is very limited. Only certain applications can be running in the background. For example your own applications can only be found from a long list. We want user experience to be customizable.

– Multitasking can be a challenge when it comes to battery usage. But by tweaking parameters this is not an overwhelming problem. We at Jolla have been working and studying these challenges for ten years so we are confident that we will find solution for this. We believe that with suitable parameter specifications we are able to provide sufficient resources for applications so that they can access their data and required network connections without constantly communicating with WLAN, cell phone networks and updating the screen.

Where does one get applications for Jolla’s phone?

– It is clear that Jolla’s phone needs 3rd party support, applications and ecosystem. We have now published our Qt/QML story but this is not enough. We are all the time building our ecosystem and we will also create a software store where consumers can buy applications for their phone.

– When the smart phone hits the market, it must absolutely have large number of applications available. When we will publish the phone, we will also tell more about the availability of applications.

How about Angry Birds?

– Angry Birds is already available for previous Meego devices.

The author, Ossi Mäntylahti, is Helsinki based IT consultant, part-time freelance journalist and incredibly keen on public good.