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.


Jolla open-sources its Gecko-based Sailfish mobile browser

The Finnish handset maker Jolla has open-sourced the browser that comes with its Sailfish operating system. The Sailfish browser is built on Mozilla’s Gecko engine and embedded in the Qt application framework using the EmbedLite API. Its open-sourcing means the community can now contribute to its improvement. “Our objective with the project is to make this the first step to get official support from Mozilla Corp. to a mobile browser based on Gecko and embedded in Qt,” Jolla co-founder Stefano Mosconi said in a statement.

Jolla announces a new batch of smartphones for European customers

The newly-launched Jolla smartphone, made by a crew of mostly ex-Nokia(s nok) employees, is now available for purchase by people in the EU, Norway and Switzerland through the firm’s new online shop. This will be the third batch of €399 ($546) Jolla handsets to go on sale, with the last one having been largely aimed at patriotic Finns. Jolla said on Thursday that already-ordered phones would be delivered in time for Christmas – there’s been a hold-up due to “some technical logistics issues” — while newly-ordered devices will ship from January.

Jolla’s first handset will go on sale on 27 November

Jolla, the Finnish mobile firm that’s trying to revive Nokia(s nok) and Intel(s intc)’s old MeeGo operating system, will release its first handset in less than two weeks’ time. Jolla said on Thursday that the first of its €399 ($537) phones will go on sale in the firm’s native country on 27 November.

Although Jolla wants developers to write natively for its Linux-based Sailfish OS operating system, the devices will also support Android(s goog) apps, and the handsets will come with the Yandex Android app store. Finnish carrier DNA was one of the first partners that signed up for Jolla, along with Chinese distributor D.Phone.