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Jolla Sailfish OS to support Android hardware, apps

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Finnish smartphone startup Jolla has announced that its Linux-based Sailfish OS mobile platform will be both software and hardware compatible with Android.

Sailfish OS will be able to run unmodified Android apps alongside native Sailfish ones, the company said in a press release on Monday. In addition, Sailfish will be installable on existing hardware, provided it is Android compatible.

So far, Sailfish OS has only been demoed running on Jolla's own homegrown handsets – the first batch of which is sold out, despite not being scheduled to ship until the end of the year. But the company said on Monday that the OS would be installable on a range of popular Android smartphones and tablets, too.

"Vendors interested to utilize Sailfish OS are now able to develop phones and tablets based on many different chipset and hardware configurations," Jolla's release said. "This new level of compatibility will enable device vendors who use Sailfish OS to fully utilize the existing Android hardware ecosystem."

The company did not go into detail on how it had achieved this hardware compatibility, and it did not respond to The Reg's request for clarification, but the news isn't really surprising. Other, competing Linux-based mobile platforms, including Firefox OS, Tizen, and Ubuntu, have been built around the Android device driver model to achieve broad hardware compatibility.

Less clear is how Sailfish OS has implemented its Android app compatibility. "The Android layer runs in its own sandbox," Jolla said via Twitter, and it added that Android apps would not necessarily be first-class citizens on the platform. "Definitely, native apps are the only way to utilize the Sailfish UI to the full," the company said, but it gave no further details.

One strong possibility is that Jolla has adapted the Android Compatibility Layer technology from OpenMobile World Wide, versions of which have previously been demoed running on HP webOS and Tizen. Jolla chairman Antti Saarnio has hinted in the past that this might be the case, but neither company has confirmed it to The Reg so far.

Jolla did say, however, that owners of Sailfish OS handsets would not need to side-load Android apps to get them onto their devices. "Jolla will cooperate with leading global app stores to ensure users can seamlessly download Android apps just as they would do on any Android device," the company said in its statement.

Jolla did not disclose which specific Android app stores it was working with, but it did say via Twitter that Google Play would not be one of them. That's probably because Google requires device manufacturers to comply with certain compatibility rules and to sign a licensing agreement before it allows them to distribute the Google Play Store app.

Still, Google Play isn't the only name in the Android app store game, particularly in developing markets such as China, where smartphone adoption is exploding.

"We believe Sailfish with Android compatibility is a highly relevant mobile operating system option for major mobile companies in Europe and in Asia," said Jolla CEO Tomi Pienimäki. "We are already in discussions with several major Asian vendors regarding this opportunity."

Jolla said the details of its Android hardware and software compatibility are "to be shared later, as we work on the solution."

In the meantime, the company is readying a second batch of Sailfish OS handset preorders, but it says this time the offer will be limited to Finnish customers, owing to strong demand in Jolla's home country. Additional preorders will be made available to other regions at a later date. ®

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