I've been following the Jolla story alost from the beginning. I've used the Finnish startup's smartphone and tablet running its Sailfish operating system, and while the hardware was underwhelming, the gesture-centric software has always been the star of the show. It's sleek, easy to use and really does do a good job of removing the need for physical buttons.
Jolla isn't committing to making a smartwatch or a fully-fledged operating system just yet, but it has been playing with the idea of what it could offer as an alternative to Android Wear, watchOS and whatever Fitbit's smartwatch ends up running.
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"We are not going to do any smartwatch business, this is only proof of concept," Jolla's community manager Sepher James Noori told us. "We want to show that we can bring Sailfish to different shapes and form factors. The goal was to get it done on the watch and prove that the OS is well designed for smaller form factors and really easy to navigate. We haven't decided this will completely work on a watch yet, but that is what are trying to do with this study."
The team has managed to port the Sailfish OS to an LG Watch Urbane and I've managed to get a look at how things are running on the older generation Android Wear smartwatch so far. The early development does currently utilise the Urbane's crown to turn the screen on as it doesn't have all the sensors working at this stage. The concept is entirely the same as it is on the phone or the tablet and, if anything, it feels a better fit. It's also taking technical and design inspiration from Asteroid OS, an existing open source smartwatch operating system that we've played around with recently.
It solely uses swipe gestures to navigate through screens like fitness tracking data or the weather. Notifications like messages fill the screen with big images and text making it pretty easy to glance at. A simple double tap can filter through a small collection of watch faces. A popular feature on the OS is ambiences, which are essentially stylish themes adds an element of customisation. You can also access apps from the bottom of the screen and at the moment there are your typical native apps like calendar, messages, email and the Jolla Store. I also spotted Uber but it's not up and running on the device.
With it being so early in the testing process, it's really difficult to get a good feel of what Jolla can bring to the smartwatch OS party. While the ambition is to stick with the gesture-centric approach, Noori told us that it's not ruling out the possibility of integrating physical buttons later on, much like LG has done with the Watch Sport and the Watch Style. Yes, it definitely looks the part but without seeing how it operates day-to-day, we are still dealing with the unknown. It certainly has the potential to offer a simple yet sleek alternative to what's already out there but we still need to see more of it.