Jolla's Sailfish OS is one of the few remaining platforms which serve as an alternative to the duopolistic influence of Android and iOS. In markets typically dominated by the two tech giants, alternative developers like Jolla have struggled to find a consumer base - but a new domestic certification in Russia may elevate use of the platform to millions of new users.
Amid threats to block sites like LinkedIn and Reddit, the Russian government has stepped up its intensity in shifting to non-Western platforms. In August, Russia fined Google $6.75 million in an anti-trust case which alleged Google was abusing its position to carry out unfair practices related to its search services on Android.
In another attempt to further the pivot from Western tech, the Russian government granted a domestic certification to Jolla's Sailfish OS, effectively endorsing the platform as its first official "Android alternative".
In an interview with TechCrunch, Antti Saarnio - the director and co-founder of the Finnish-based Jolla - said his OS beat out the Linux-based Tizen OS to become the exclusive mobile OS software to be certified by the Russian government.
“After a couple of months [of] very thorough technical evaluation they selected our OS for further collaboration," Saarnio said. "What we then started was a joint R&D project with a local Russian organization to build an OS version of Sailfish into Russia so that [their] government will have an independent OS, but it’s supported by our overall code base.”
“The Russian government has a list of software which can be seen as a national software and which are audited and certified," said Saarnio. "And in this list of software, our software is the only mobile OS software — currently."
Saarnio's mention of a "joint R&D project with a local Russian organization" confirms reports last year that Russia would be building its own smartphone OS based on Jolla's Sailfish. Speaking on the venture, Russia's Minister of Communications Nikolai Nikiforov indicated that 95% of Russia's tech is sourced from foreign vendors - a number which the ministry looks to bring down to 50% by 2025.
The Russian government has long looked to alleviate its reliance on foreign tech powerhouses. Earlier this year, the city of Moscow dropped Microsoft software on nearly 600,000 of its computers and servers, instead opting to replace Microsoft's suite of services with offerings from Rostelecom - Russia's state-run communications provider.
This shift from Android and iOS to Jolla may provide a boon to the small Finnish startup founded by ex-Nokia developers. But as Russia tightens its control over flow of information within the country, the venture may have implications for privacy and freedom of expression among Russian citizens.