Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Symbian and Nokia wrestling about voting rights?

It's obvious that it's not in everybody's interest to let Nokia gain more control over Symbian - not the OS, but Foundation this time. It's a fact that Symbian was (or still is?) owned ~48% by Nokia. As part of the announcement of making Symbian OS open-source it also came to light that voting rights will be according to the number of Symbian Foundation-based mobile phones shipped. And since Nokia has shipped more than 70% of Symbian-powered devices so far, it puts them into a more powerful position than they've been before.

As I said it's obvious that not everybody likes it from those companies who are on the same ship with Nokia. The surprising bit is that even somebody at a power position at Symbian thinks this way AND make comments on this in public. John Forsyth said that he's "worried this asymmetry will mean the community doesn't grow in the appropriate way." His suggestions include "clean-room culture" and a one company-one vote system. Naturally Nokia won't accept latter after spending lots of money on Symbian - they made Symbian successful, they invested the most in it and now at the turning point of Symbian's life they'd like to take the opportunity to increase their influence on it, too.

Wonder what John thought about this when sharing his opinion in public. Perhaps we can read something about it in his blog in the future...


Friday, July 18, 2008

Static vs active application icons

I found an interesting blog about mobile interaction design at Sender 11 (whatever that name means). The point of the article is that in order to make application icons more attractive and provide a better user-experience, the icons should refresh their content from time to time and show "relevant" information to the user instead of being passive and showing only static information.

I like the idea. As one of the comments says with Nokia S60s you can now build interfaces wiht live icons like these in web-run-time and create a whole menu as a widget. Well, I don't know much about widgets, but I can imagine that it would work. For example, the whole Application Shell could make use of Web run-time and show application entry points (i.e. icons) as widgets with their always-changing behavior. Even more, the idea of Active Idle could be replaced by an active Application Shell, too. Some pixels could also be saved from precious screen real-estate (e.g. unread messages) by letting the application icons show information.

What could different applications show to the user? Here's a by far incomplete list out of my mind:

  • Calendar: indication about events nearby
  • Messaging: unread messages (sms, e-mail, etc.)
  • Bluetooth connectivity: enabled vs disabled, transfer in progress
  • WLAN connectivity: enabled vs disabled, number of hotspots nearby
  • Maps: known (i.e. pre-recorded) locations nearby
  • Clock: time
  • Music Player: some information about tune being played (with scrolling, for example)
  • RSS reader: new, unread items
  • etc.
Could you add more?


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cross-platform development

I've read a great article about multi-platorm development today. I've already been involved in the development of multi-platform solutions and I saw big sacrifices made for the sake of common codebase. Not all code could be shared this way, of course, there was thicker/thinner layer(s) on the top of common code. Generally the maintenance/improvement of common code was slower compared to one-platform-only cases and the code was less efficient, too. I was not convinced that it was worth doing it this way at all.

Having said this, I fully agree with the analysis above. I would add, though, that multi-platform development requires either highly-skilled developers with solid knowledge of each platform they're developing for or a team of developers writing code 1 man/platform with very good communication within the team. Either choice could be right or wrong depending on many factors, like complexity of solution, developer skills, proper specification, etc.

Btw, Simon Judge has also added his valuable remarks to this topic.



Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Collection of great materials on Symbian going open-source

My regular readers may wonder why I've been silent on the great news of the mobile industry: Symbian is going open-source. The reason is simple: I was so shocked to hear it in the news that I just sat back watching the flood of new blogs and comments trying to digest this new information. But I've been digesting it, too. Other people whom I respect and think knowledgeable in this area have written their opinion and I'm now about to collect some of them in a blog and share it with you.

Andreas Constantinou from Vision Mobile was one of the fastests in commenting the news. He concluded that it was a logical move from Nokia (and Symbian, etc.) both from technical and business point of view:

    • " ... [Symbian] was crippled without control of the UI, application stack and the core OS under the same entity"
    • Eclipse (EPL) license is a weak one, which will make it desirable for OEMs to choose it.
He was also the first to point out that this move would cause lay-offs and some hard times for the following industry players:
    • SonyEricsson and Motorola: they will eventually have to give up with UIQ, since S60 will be the dominant UI and ecosystem and S60 will basically swallow both UIQ and MOAP(S).
    • Android's royalty-free, open source business model is not the only compelling alternative for OEMs, operators, etc. On the contrary, Symbian has already proved whereas Android has not yet.
Simon Judge over at Mobile Phone Development comments that " ... full access to the platform code allows for much more innovative applications using facilities that are currently hidden" and all this "only" for $1.500 is definitely a step forward.
He also cleverly notes that "Nokia and Symbian now see licensing the OS as a dead end" - I wonder what Microsoft will comment on it?
Finally, he raises his concerns on a technical question, backward compatibility: "... [the announcement] doesn’t explain whether this is source code, binary or application compatibility" - we wouldn't like to face with such a big break as what we did with the introduction of Platform Security, would we?

Mobile Opportunity's Michael Mace hails Nokia for their courage. He suspects, though, that "... the announcement is actually half cleanup and half power move: ... The power move is that it challenges Android ... The cleanup is that the ownership situation of Symbian was unstable and had to be changed eventually, and SonyEricsson clearly wanted to get out of the UIQ business".
He also asks what will drive Symbian developers after this change? While he believes that developers "respond to user excitement and the chance to make lots of money", he fails to see how the new Symbian strategy drives either one.
Finally, Michael points out that the longer it will take for Symbian Foundation to kick off, the bigger the advantage for Apple and Android. What about Microsoft? "This is Microsoft's ultimate open source nightmare, becoming real.

Rafe Blanford from AllAboutSymbian has written about Symbian Foundation unwrapped. He says that the tranformation of Symbian OS to a royalty-free, open-source system is according to today's industry philosophy and whilst it's a logical move forward it would not have been possible 10 years ago, since "...companies would have been unwilling to let Nokia or anyone else have such a dominant position". The new Symbian OS will challenge LiMo, Android and the likes on their own strength and "negates their key advantage". Apple's iPhone might be not affected, according to Rafe, since "it is difficult to see how Apple will expand to become a significant overall player in mobile space (rather than an individual niche player with lots of press attention)".

The hypothetical ("10 years old") problem Rafe was referring to is supported by The Register, too. They say, "the most damaging problem is that Symbian's licensees may have no desire to make Nokia stronger now that it owns the operation 100 per cent".
They also worry about that "the 'Foundation' may also prove to be an expensive liability for Nokia".
Finally they write that "it's largely Nokia that must be blamed for failing to make Symbian phones remotely 'enchanting' ..." and "... today it's the iPhone which has the enchantment factor. ... Symbian has done everything its original designers asked of it - a twenty year lifespan is not bad at all. But it's now Apple's business to lose."

Apple and world dominance. What about Microsoft? They're still bigger than Apple at least in terms of mobile OS market share, aren't they? Well, we've already got used to the style Microsoft comments similar announcements, thus it must not have come as a surprise that they have welcomed this move. To be more accurate, they have "welcomed the transformation of the Symbian mobile-phone platform into an open source project, because the software giant contends the change will create a host of new problems for the Symbian community." Sweet, isn't it? They use FUD referring mainly to the big 'F', fragmentation, saying that "there are more Linux consortiums that come and go than there are Linux phones".

Which might be true, actually. But don't lump Symbian and mobile Linux together. David Wood, EVP of Research at Symbian, has written a lengthy article about how he (and Symbian) sees this problem. He argues that 1: fragmentation really is a problem, 2: Symbian has the experience and ability to handle it. As opposed to Google, for example, says the side-note. :)

Finally, it's worth paying attention to Ajit Jaokar's article, who warns that "it is not possible to compare Symbian vs. Android; or Symbian vs. iPhone .. because it is not possible to mix operating systems with ecosystems". These are like "apples and oranges" in terms of "iPhone, Ovi and Android are ecosystems. In contrast, Symbian and Limo are operating systems or Operating system consortia". It's another lengthy article that is worth reading.

So I've been silent and haven't commented this news yet. Why? Because there are so many people to listen to ...

What about you?