Silent Circle shows off more powerful Blackphone 2 privacy phone

The secure mobile company Silent Circle, which last week raised $50M and bought out the joint venture behind its Blackphone handset, has unveiled a new version of that device — though prospective customers have a bit of a wait on their hands.

The Blackphone 2 will appear in the second half of this year, providing much better specs than the initial handset that was made by Geeksphone, the joint venture partner that is now out of the picture. It will have an 8-core processor and 3GB of RAM (the quad-core original had 1GB) and will also be substantially larger, with a 5.5-inch screen (up from 4.7 inches).

Apart from making the privacy-first phone more desirable as a handset, Silent Circle has also previewed the Blackphone+ tablet, which will come later this year. Both devices will of course use version 1.1 of the PrivatOS Android fork, which features an OS-level virtualization feature for keeping sensitive material away from less-private apps, as well as a privacy-focused app store.


While its security track record is not entirely unblemished, U.S.-based Silent Circle is a very credible player, coming from people such as PGP encryption pioneer Phil Zimmermann. It offers its privacy-focused communications apps separately from the Blackphone as well as bundled with it, and it’s part of the Dark Mail Alliance that’s trying to build the successor to email.

However, it may face a challenge from a newly announced partnership between Finnish handset-maker Jolla and security outfit SSH Communications Security, which are working on a secure version of Jolla’s Android-compatible Sailfish OS, with great emphasis on the fact that theirs is a homegrown European alternative to Android-based mobile operating systems (surely a dig at Silent Circle, among others).

Jolla and SSH push Sailfish Secure as “European alternative” mobile OS

I’ve got to hand it to Jolla – despite significant teething problems, the upstart Finnish mobile-maker has clung on, using crowdfunding campaigns and general community-mindedness to maintain interest around its alternative OS, Sailfish.

And now Jolla has done something really clever: at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, it’s revealed a partnership with SSH Communications Security – the Finnish firm behind the widely used Secure Shell crypto protocol — to develop a “security-hardened” version of Sailfish OS for governments, businesses and privacy-conscious consumers.

Sailfish OS may be Android-compatible, but it isn’t an Android fork. This means the secure version, if it works out, will provide a real alternative to Silent Circle’s Android-based Blackphone, which targets a similar set of customers.

The positioning is none too subtle: Jolla’s Monday statement points out that Sailfish Secure would provide a “European alternative” to “Android or other U.S.-based operating systems.” Silent Circle is of course based in the U.S., as are Apple et al. Here’s what Jolla chairman Antti Saarnio said in that statement:

It is evident that the world needs a secure, transparent and open mobile solution alternative, which is not controlled by any country or major industry player. Together with leading security expert SSH Communications Security we are aiming to create an open European mobile solution running on Sailfish OS. We are also inviting other industry players to join the initiative.

Interestingly, Jolla and SSH say governments and large corporations will be able to “adapt” Sailfish Secure to different hardware configurations. Together with the Android compatibility of today’s Sailfish OS, that suggests it will be able to run on Android hardware, though I’ve asked Jolla for confirmation of that.

Jolla may be small fry, but it doesn’t have a lot of competition in the European mobile OS stakes. It’s smart for the company to capitalize on that, particularly given the mistrust many in the region have about U.S.-based technology, and given how EU politicians are desperate to find local players they can champion. Nasdaq-listed SSH is a serious player, too, so there’s credibility to this push.


Blackphone to get privacy app store and self-contained ‘spaces’

The anti-surveillance Blackphone handset is about to get what its makers are billing as the world’s first privacy-focused app store, along with the ability to run separate virtualized spaces for private and not-as-private accounts and applications.

The Blackphone, which started shipping in June, runs an Android fork called PrivatOS and comes bundled with a bunch of privacy-focused apps, such as the encrypted storage service SpiderOak and the anti-tracking service Disconnect. On Tuesday, the Swiss-based firm announced a new version of PrivatOS that will ship early next year.

The Blackphone app store will roll out in January, carrying apps that are curated by the Blackphone team. Meanwhile, the new version of PrivatOS will also come with a feature called “Spaces,” which allows users to create separate self-contained spaces for different levels of privacy and security.

Users can create separate virtualized spaces for parent-friendly and kid-friendly applications, or for work and personal use, or any other self-contained group of apps, accounts and data. The feature is an adaptation of Graphite Software’s Secure Spaces technology, and the preloaded default space will be the privacy-centric “Silent Space,” featuring encrypted communications tools and so on.

“The addition of Spaces and the Blackphone app store is the most significant update to PrivatOS since its inception,” Blackphone CEO Toby Weir-Jones said in a statement. “We are delighted to have developed the Silent Space, alongside Graphite Software, who share our core values of privacy and security.”