Apostrophy AG, a software startup founded by mobile industry veterans, is headed to Davos this week to unveil a smartphone operating system that puts privacy first.
Betting on a growing push by regulators worldwide to rein in the duopoly power of Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google on mobile platforms, the Swiss firm is building a third option around the promise of data sovereignty. Founder Petter Neby, who already has one company selling high-design, low-tech mobile phones, is attending the World Economic Forum to get Apostrophy’s name in front of potential investors and government officials keen for a more competitive mobile landscape.
Lugano-based Apostrophy is entering a field of competition that’s largely been abandoned after failed attempts to challenge Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone ecosystems by the likes of Microsoft Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., HP Inc.’s Palm and even the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox OS. Neby’s team has recruited former software engineers from a collaborative venture named KaiOS, which was aimed at addressing emerging markets and affordable devices.
The Apostrophy chairman is building on what he knows. Neby founded Punkt in 2008, a brand of feature phones targeting people who want to stay in touch without being overwhelmed by “the distraction industry” of modern smartphones. And he’s relying on a depth of business expertise, appointing Steve Cistulli — who has 25 years of experience in the mobile industry — as chief executive officer.
Unlike Apple and Google, Apostrophy intends to charge a subscription fee for its combination of software and services — its key customers will be hardware makers rather than end-users — harking back to the security-centric BlackBerry service ecosystem of the past. Punkt is among the company’s customers. Apostrophy has more than 50 employees globally and is raising 10 million euros ($11 million) this year.
The company’s software, dubbed AphyOS, is built atop an open-source version of Android called GrapheneOS. It works by segregating apps to prevent tracking of user behavior, not unlike the changes Apple implemented in iOS on iPhones that had a calamitous effect on Meta Platforms Inc.’s ad sales. Aphy will be able to run Android apps but won’t include Google’s Mobile Services or Play Store by default.