February MoMo London: Mobile OS

momlondon.pngThis month’s Mobile Monday London was themed ‘Mobile Operating Systems’. There were speakers from Symbian, Trolltech, Vodafone and MMetrics. As so much was said and I believe in short blog posts, I am going to split my commentary over several instalments.

First of all, David Wood from Symbian. David gave a whirlwind presentation why he thinks Symbian will be around for some time to come.

David started asking if the OS matters or whether applications and application environments are becoming more important. He also asked what makes a mobile OS different to a mainstream OS and what might prevent such mainstream OS from moving down to embedded devices.

David’s view is that creating a mobile OS is ‘truly hard’. It’s difficult technically. Algorithms need to be optimised for performance. Integration onto hardware is difficult. It’s also difficult to manage change such that the platform doesn’t become fragmented. It’s also requires significant effort to provide software of sufficient quality to satisfy the needs of handset OEMs.

David observed how Mobile Linux is showing us that producing a fragmented OS is easy – ‘Linux is fragmenting faster than it unifies’. Symbian believes it will continue to own a large proportion (approx 75%) of the smart device market in the coming years. Going forward, David sees sales accelerators as decreased cost, improved reliability, stylishness, word-of-mouth and valued services.

Personally, I agree that creating a mobile OS is difficult. It’s also not just about creating the OS. The whole ecosystem of documentation, tools and markets has to be created and supported.

Also, while today’s new mobile Linux newcomers might have a relatively easy time (or not in some cases!) creating their first version, things will become more complex as they have to support new versions and fixes to older versions. It can quickly become maintenance intensive and difficult to maintain and control forward/backward compatibility.

On the other hand, I believe Symbian’s view of a creating a mobile OS as being ‘truly hard’ is, to a certain extent, a result of it’s own experience and making. I don’t think Symbian made life easy for itself when it inherited EPOC. Many of the idioms are ‘truly hard’ to understand and use. While I believe these mechanisms need to be there for performance, the way they are presented to developers (i.e. the resultant programming interfaces) and the tools have made life unnecessary difficult for developers outside and inside Symbian.

Next up… Trolltech on Mobile Linux and cross platform development environments.

Update: This presentation is now online