The Implications of Betting on the Smartphone Underdogs

Have you seen the endless parade of Android phones just like the other these past few years? Have you ever felt Android and iOS provide essentially the same experience like when they came out? What was the last time you saw any real innovation that would make your life easier? Giant phablets or 3D touch by Apple? I mean come on…

There are other great devices, you can have a great mobile experience outside of Apple and Google. It is not only possible, it can be the better option for your life and work style.

This was the kind of resentment I felt two years ago. This led me to implement the strategy I employ in many life situations — bet on the underdog. If you are as dissatisfied as I was, maybe you should try it too. If we never try and support other platforms other than iOS, Android, or Windows Phone, there will never be other platforms. And the industry will be stuck in this irritating status quo.

Status quo is not good for anybody. It does not support innovation. There is some development of the major platforms. But for the most part, they just slowly copy one feature of the competition after another and they seem to converge over the years to a similar user experience. These platforms are too big to change, they are afraid of breaking the familiar user experience. What’s wrong with that? It is the same experience that we had on smartphones 5 years ago. And I do not believe this experience is all that good for the customer. There must be a better way.

Where does innovation happen?

Where does innovation happen? I would say in a resource-constraint environment, when you are building something new and exciting and at the same time you have no time or money to fool around. You have a vision and you dedicate yourself to that vision.

Is there an example of such environment? I believe there is — Jolla. A company of one hundred employees with an innovative and independent OS called Sailfish. The story of what was before Jolla is fascinating, let me examine it briefly.

The success of Jolla proves that Nokia had the talent and the OS to be a relevant player after the iPhone came all along. They just decided not to be through a series of “smart” and “safe” business choices.

Once upon a time, there was a leading company of the mobile industry called Nokia. They developed a unique Linux-based smartphones for years. The OS was called Maemo and later MeeGo. Did you ever hear about it? Probably not. It had little commercial success probably because Nokia kept pushing Symbian. They had powerful and usable tablets before iPhone came out. I was fascinated by these devices. This line ended with the N900, the ultimate phone for Linux geeks. No wonder it did not spread to the public but it was immensely powerful handheld and some people love it and carry it to this day.

Nokia N900 was a true Linux computer in your pocket.

Nokia released a phone that could make it relevant again. The Nokia N9. It was around the time Stephen Elop worked hard to prepare Nokia for the Microsoft acquisition. The MeeGo team had one last shot at creating a great Linux-based smartphone before this line of devices was to be discontinued in favour of Windows Phone.

And they did it, N9 was a gorgeous smartphone with simple yet powerful gesture-based user experience with no physical buttons. I saw that smartphone, compared it with my Android phone, and the verdict was clear. Why would anyone want to use iOS or Android when they can use this gesture based OS? It felt like a new generation of touch-screen devices. They created a momentum in the industry, everyone praised the Nokia N9. And what did Nokia do? Shut it down, killed it at the same time it came out. It was supposed to be a “smart” business decision.

Nokia N9 was the phone that had the power to make Nokia the innovator in the field again.

The people behind N9 left Nokia but felt they had the resources and know-how to create an innovative OS and a belief that the industry needed change. They started Jolla and in two years with roughly a hundred people, they had a phone on the market with a brand new Sailfish OS. It had similar interface to the N9, yet different and fresh, with new ideas.

When I saw Jolla and their mission, I jumped the Android ship and never looked back.

It is a small company, they struggle to survive, hardware manufactures have a hard time taking Jolla seriously but they are industry-forged veterans and they manage to sail through the storms despite the odds and keep evolving their OS. I believe Sailfish will thrive and their competition like Firefox OS, Ubuntu Phone, or Tizen will slowly die. These players have either skills or vision and never both like Jolla does.

Innovation Happen in the Strangest Places

Other place I see some innovation is in many aspects the complete opposite of Jolla. I mean the Toronto-based veteran of the mobile industry, Blackberry Ltd. They dominated the smartphone industry once and were not able to move fast enough, a bit like Nokia. Probably, they were too arrogant to recognise the threat of iPhone and Android and when they did, it was too late for the market.

Blackberry might be a corporate dinosaur but the struggle to survive brought innovation. Unlike Nokia, they were able to change from the inside and stayed true to their mission to provide the most secure and productive mobile experience with messaging at the core of the OS. Thanks to that, they have not fall into oblivion yet like the handset division of Nokia did.

So different, yet so alike…

I currently use a Blackberry Classic as my main device. So I shall compare the Classic and the Jolla phone which I used for the past two years. Both provide a very different experience from the mainstream OSs but a better one in my opinion.

The Blackberry Classic and its unified inbox called the Hub.

At the first glance, Jolla and Classic could not be more different. Jolla has no physical buttons and Blackberry Classic has 40 of them. Jolla is focused on open-source technologies and Blackberry is strictly proprietary. But there are some similarities.

Both Sailfish and Blackberry 10 OS experience feel much more powerful and faster then Android or the other platforms. Both are gesture-based, although I think the gestures are more sensible and simpler on Sailfish. The Classic makes up for that by the excellent use of the optical trackpad and keyboard shortcuts.

The excellent and true multitasking and having live app tiles on the home screen is awesome. You can have a YouTube video playing in the background while dealing with your e-mail, much like on a desktop OS.

Both platforms can run Android apps although Sailfish can run any Android app I tried whereas there are some Android apps that do not run on the Classic. Android apps cannot run in the background properly on the Classic. But Blackberry used to be quite big and the selection of native apps is wider. All in all, app selection on both OSs is adequate to my needs.

Using Blackberry’s latest smartphones brings unmatched productivity to your mobile life. Having a unified inbox of all your messages and social networks is an excellent idea. You can reply to a message no matter what app it is from and staying on top of your communications is easy. Moreover, this article is written entirely on the keyboard of Blackberry Classic. I would never wrote it on Jolla. If you thought hardware keyboards are obsolete, give it a try.

There are many useful features and tricks that boost your productivity on these phones but exhaustive lists can we found elsewhere.

Final Message

Why did I write this article? Out of frustration mainly. But also to point out there are alternatives worthy of our attention. My final message is the following.

Innovation will never happen in the current mobile industry duopoly. We need fresh ideas and these can happen only outside of iOS and Android.

Every attempt to improve the Android experience failed in my opinion (the interfaces presented by HTC, Samsung etc. are always worse then the vanilla Android).

There must be a better way to operate a smartphone and there is, most people just don’t know about it.

We must look elsewhere and support companies that struggle to make a change in mobile.

Miss the Blackberry keyboard? Give the Classic or the Passport a try. Are you intrigued by Jolla’s beautiful gesture interface and their mission? Pick up a phone running Sailfish OS. You will be just as productive on these devices or even more than you are now, despite of what you have heard. Last but not least, you will be happier and you will truly like your device for a change.

Thank you for reading this far;)

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