Exclusive Interview with Dr. Jörg Wurzer, Founder and Managing Director of Volla Systeme
In this exclusive interview, we talk to visionary Dr. Jörg Wurzer, the founder and managing director of Volla Systeme, a German independent smartphone manufacturer and creator of Volla OS. Volla OS stands out with its stringent commitment to data protection and its unique operating interface. With no outside investors and a clear focus on simplifying user experience while maintaining privacy, Volla has succeeded in carving a distinct niche in the smartphone world. We wanted to learn more about the Volla success story and get some exclusive insights from Dr. Jörg Wurzer.
What was the motivation behind the creation of Volla Phone?
There are many, but I would like to highlight two. The digital world and smartphones in particular are taking up more and more of our time and attention. But what really matters lies outside of the digital world – it's the people we live with, the things we create. Personally, I want to have a clear head to enjoy these things without having to give up the practical benefits of having a smartphone. At the same time, I am experiencing increasing paternalism through Big Tech, whereby my personal information, including details about my contacts, the content I engage with and communicate with others about, as well as my whereabouts, are being gathered and exploited without my consent. Depending on the country I live in and the political situation, this can even become dangerous.
Why is privacy important to you?
Knowledge is power. And knowledge about people means having power over them. Often without people being aware of it, information is filtered, selected and analyzed. Take the many recommendation services, or artificial intelligence that analyzes personal data. It may still be okay to be recommended music by Spotify, but an algorithm for finding a partner is worth questioning, and election tools, such as the German Wahl-o-mat, is where things become critical.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when developing the Volla Phone?
Maintaining the independence of Volla Systeme is imperative to honor my commitment. Hence, I made a conscious choice to forego venture capital, even though it seemed implausible for our ambitious endeavor of developing a smartphone with its own operating system. Nonetheless, we succeeded in our mission. In order to bring our idea to life with the help of our users, we turned to crowdfunding. However, as we do not have access to the large amounts of capital that a venture capitalist could provide, an equally big challenge is probably to make Volla more known. Achieving this is no small task, and one strategy we are pursuing is building partnerships. By working closely with partners like StartMail, our aim is not only to deliver exceptional products to our customers, but also to raise awareness about each other's services in the area of digital self-determination.
Why should someone consider switching to the Volla Phone and how does it compare to other popular smartphone brands on the market?
Our flagship model Volla Phone 22 is an elegant, lightweight and powerful smartphone. But what makes it unique is the software. Freedom through simplicity and security is our message and offer.
The new operating concept boasts of simplicity, featuring a central idea called the "springboard" that facilitates direct operation. Similar to pen and paper, you can initiate a text field and the system will anticipate your intended action, providing suggestions for auto-completion or functions. With this innovative system, you can add reminders to your calendar, write text messages, or even conduct web searches without the need to open apps. An added feature of a red dot enables users to access essential everyday functions with a simple gesture.
Security is provided due to a secure operating system that consistently protects your privacy. To achieve this, we have removed Google apps and services from Android while still ensuring the highest level of compatibility through alternatives. A unique security mode monitors and filters Internet traffic on the device according to the user's specifications and can not only block trackers but also temporarily block apps and their background processes.
How has the market responded to a privacy-focused smartphone like Volla Phone so far?
Despite our limited marketing budget, we have shipped ten thousand Volla Phones to over 55 countries. We are seeing a lot of interest from consumers and business customers after Apple and Google left a growing market segment that they cannot serve. Both companies have committed themselves technically and commercially to the cloud as we know it today. And this cloud can never be secure, as government organizations always have or can force access to all data. This is stipulated in the US Patriot Act and Cloud Act, for example.
Volla Phone offers an alternative to mainstream smartphones that often rely heavily on Google services. How does the absence of Google services impact the usability and convenience for the user?
There is no reason to use Google services. Instead of Gmail, StartMail, for example, offers a better alternative. Unfortunately, many Android apps require Google Play services, partly for the convenience of the developers or because they want to know and exploit more information about the user than the app claims. It is worrying that many banks use Google services, even though these are very sensitive apps. The claim that Google services increase security is nonsense.
For all those who rely on apps that require Google Play services, we enable the optional activation of microG, a substitute that ensures compatibility in most cases. All apps on the Google Play Store are accessible via Aurora, an app store that enables the anonymous installation of apps found on the Google Play Store. However, users can also find the F-Droid app store on a Volla Phone. It contains alternative and open-source apps for many everyday applications.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to switch from a mainstream smartphone to a Volla Phone?
Give yourself time to get to know the new functions. Start by transferring your data. Switching is also a good opportunity to think about which apps you really need and which you don't. I block apps that I rarely use via the security mode. This way I always have a very tidy overview of installed apps.
Take the time to familiarize yourself with the new features and functions before diving in. Begin by transferring your data, and while doing so, reflect on which apps you truly need and which ones can be discarded. I block apps that I rarely use via the security mode. This way I always have a very tidy and organized view of installed apps.
The switch is also a good opportunity to reflect on moving to other privacy-focused products for example a new email account with StartMail. As a messenger, I currently recommend Signal for secure communication. It is even integrated directly into Springboard. That's very handy.
Can you tell us more about the unique features of Volla OS and how it enhances the user experience?
We've already talked about the springboard, the collections and the security mode. There are many practical details. For example, we have installed an optional VPN app, especially for beginners. VPN stands for virtual private network and protects data traffic from being viewed by third parties and can simulate a different location. Our partner is hide.me, which does not record any internet activity and offers a special encryption process.
We will soon be introducing automatic voice recognition using AI, which will provide even greater convenience. The big difference to Siri, Alexa, Cortana and the other "ladies" of Big Tech is that our AI is only executed on the device. Not a single byte goes to the cloud so that the voice and spoken content cannot be recorded and analyzed.
The multi-boot function is absolutely unique. This is the ability to install a second or third operating system on a memory card. When starting the Volla Phone, the user can then select the desired operating system, for example to keep private and business strictly separate or simply to try out a new operating system. Freedom also means freedom of choice.
How do you see the future of smartphones, particularly with respect to privacy and data security?
The beauty of the future is that it is unpredictable. For some it is frightening, for me, it is a source of inspiration and a reason to innovate. I have introduced a fresh concept for smartphones, believing that they will continue to play a central role in our lives, while tablets and smartwatches will gradually lose significance. In my opinion, smart glasses will not gain much traction either.
Instead, the smartphone is evolving into an all-in-one mobile device that can be paired with suitable accessories to enhance its capabilities. This brings us to the topic of "convergence", which is facilitated by the Ubuntu Touch operating system we offer. By simply connecting a keyboard and screen to your smartphone, you can replace the need for an expensive PC or laptop, and avoid complicated synchronization with cloud services. This is an absolute win for privacy.
What are the future plans for Volla Phone in terms of new features or models?
I approach making announcements with caution, ensuring that we are able to follow through on our promises. While we are actively engaged in research and development, some aspects remain open. Volla's long-term vision extends beyond our current offering of Volla Phones, as we strive to establish a secure and independent infrastructure. Alongside our partners, we are exploring a cloud solution that provides the same level of convenience as iCloud or Google Cloud, but with a radically different technical approach to ensure user security. The distributed, highly encrypted network is the future, also known as "distributed, encrypted edge computing". This can even be applied to the infrastructure itself. We are only at the beginning of an exciting development. Volla friends can also expect new hardware releases, and even a different class of device, in the near future.
The views expressed in this Q&A are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of StartMail. This interview is translated from German language.