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No, the Yotaphone Isn’t Switching From Android to Sailfish

yotaphoneThere’s a story going around today that the upcoming models of the dual-screen Yotaphone will be dropping Android in favor of the Sailfish OS. A number of sites are picking up the wire report published by AFP yesterday, and on Saturday the story started getting picked up by tech blogs, including PocketNow, 9to5Google, Talk Android, Android Authority, and even the news feed at XDA Forums.

Unfortunately for the blogs that leapt before they looked, the story is not true. Yota Devices has denied the report. According to Yota Devices CEO Vlad Martyanov:

We do not have any ongoing development of Jolla version of YotaPhone. I can’t say how things will turn in the future. May be Sailfish will obtain a certain market share as mobile OS.

At this point of time, we are fully committed to Android and recently migrated our customer base to 5.0 and working on the next generation of Android OS.

The Yotaphone is a one-of-a-kind dual screen smartphone which combines an E-ink  screen and an LCD screen. (While there are a few competing dual-screen Android smartphones under development, the Yotaphone is still unique in that it’s the only one available right now.)

It’s both expensive and rare, but it also has a high enough profile that this change would have been announced by both Yota Devices and Jolla, the developers of Sailfish OS. The latter hasn’t announced or confirmed the news and the former has issued a denial.

And frankly, I’m not surprised. This story smelled funny from the beginning; the original report said that Sailfish had beat out Tizen, Samsung’s proprietary OS, for the privilege of being on the next Yotaphone.

That in and of itself failed the smell test (Tizen is actually slightly more useful than Sailfish), and furthermore it simply made no sense for Yota Devices to set aside the years of work they invested in developing Android for their dual-screen smartphone.

If nothing else, dropping Android would reduce the usefulness of the Yotaphone by about 90%. That strikes me as an excellent way to reduce the sales volume from low to none.

Update: I think we’re going to have to take the denial with a grain of salt. A reader that there’s context to the story which is being missed because it’s not being widely reported outside of Russia.

For one thing, the Russian govt wants to start using a mobile OS which is not controlled by an American company (for security reasons, obviously). They’ve chosen Sailfish, there’s even a report that a Russian Minister held a Yotaphone running Sailfish. What’s more, a Yota Devices rep has confirmed on a Russian forum that the firmware exists. They also said that it’s not nearly ready to be shipped. (All this background suddenly explains why two different Russian news sites reported this story last week.)

In short, yes, there is a Sailfish firmware and it might one day be released for use by the Russian govt. But it almost certainly will not supplant Android on the consumer models. So the story going around is still 95% wrong.

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Igorsk July 4, 2015 um 3:23 pm

I think this comes from rumors in Russian Internet that yota might switch from "NSA-controlled" Android to an alternative OS, for example Jolla which is supposed to be Finnish or something.

Igorsk July 4, 2015 um 3:27 pm

One example:

Nate Hoffelder July 4, 2015 um 3:29 pm

That is a plausible explanation for how the story was invented, thanks.

The story is still false, but at least now I’m not wondering how the fuck someone came up with this idea.

reichsputin July 4, 2015 um 3:39 pm

You missed the main factor to the story. It in fact goes like this: due to the US – Russian relations complications that followed the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the subsequent US and EU sanctions against Russia, the Russian government now pursues an "import substitution policy" that, among other things, implies that smartphones used by government officials, the military and employees of government-owned corporations should be running an OS developed under full control of the Russian government, for security sake. And that, of course, excludes all US-origin systems like iOS and Android. So two systems competed for the title of the Russian government-approved OS: Samsung’s Tizen and Jolla’s Sailfish. Tizen was cheaper and more mature, but Sailfish was deemed the more secure, so the latter was chosen.

So, Sailfish is now officially Russia’s "national mobile OS".

As for the Yotaphone, it’s a nice device but too niche and too expensive. It never became a bestseller in retail but it has quite good chances in government procurement. Naturally, for that scenario to happen it has to run the "national mobile OS". That’s why a Sailfish-based firmware was indeed developed for the Yotaphone 2 and the Minister of Communications and Mass Media of Russia actually owns one such device.

That’s the reason for all the stories circulating the media these days.

But they at Yota Devices, of course, acknowledge that an expensive niche device like the Yotaphone 2 would fail in retail altogether if it ran an OS as unpopular as Sailfish is. So, naturally, they are not planning to release the Sailfish-based firmware to the general public. It’s for government use purposed only.

Hence the debunking.

Besides, this very raw build of the Sailfish-based Yotaphine 2 firmware doesn’t have any software optimisation and features for dual-screen usage scenarios that Yota’s Android software boasts.

Nate Hoffelder July 4, 2015 um 4:13 pm

That would explain this piece from last week.

I would note, though, that I have a Yota Devices manager denying the story. So I’m not sure that the the alternate firmware for the Yotaphone even exists.

Although I do wonder about this piece from May.

So I do see what you’e saying. It’s made me realize that my debunking isn’t the whole story. I’m going to have to fix it.

reichsputin July 4, 2015 um 4:32 pm

Here’s a forum post from a representative of Yota Devices commenting on the subject:

He confirms that they did indeed develop a Sailfish firmware build for the Yotaphone 2, but aren’t planning to make it public yet. Just as I’ve said.

reichsputin July 4, 2015 um 4:34 pm

So the story is all true except for the "ditching Android" part.

Nate Hoffelder July 4, 2015 um 4:57 pm

"all true"

I disagree. Remember, the source said that Yota Devices had "announced that its next devices will no longer operate using Android but Sailfish". That was the story, and it is false.

What we’re getting at here in this comment section is the real story which was completely misunderstood and warped into the bogus story. I see two different stories here, not one.

But I will agree that my post was deficient; it missed a lot of the context and settled for simply reporting the denial. You helped me fix it, and that I deeply appreciate.

reichsputin July 4, 2015 um 5:17 pm

That’s exactly what I’m saying: true except for the “ditching Android” part.

So it was like: the Yotphone family is running Android and then reports come that a Sailfish build is being tested for the Yotaphone 2. So some reporter made an assumption that Yota Devices is going to ditch Android in favour of Sailfish. This assumption is totally erroneous, of course. But with this screaming headline the story spreads worldwide. And of course Yota Devices has to debunk it.

And what we are discussing here is the context – everything that really is important.

Nate Hoffelder July 7, 2015 um 8:46 am

And it turns out that Jolla developed that Sailfish firmware, not Yota (or at least that is what Yota is now saying).

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Mark July 10, 2015 um 4:01 am

Tizen is actually slightly more useful than Sailfish

You might want define useful here. This comes across a bit snarky.

Nate Hoffelder July 10, 2015 um 6:05 am

Tizen is on several consumer devices, including smartphones and smartwatches. It might not have a lot of apps but it is a finished OS.

Is Sailfish available on a device, or is it still more hype and wishful thinking than a functional OS? (I was under the impression Sailfish wasn’t running on anything yet.)

reichsputin July 10, 2015 um 7:56 am

Nate Hoffelder July 10, 2015 um 8:00 am


So there’s one commercially released smartphone, one planned tablet, and a lot of third-party ports?

reichsputin July 10, 2015 um 10:34 am

Yes, that is it.

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