Symbian PR Opportunity

symbian.gifNeed some exposure for your S60 application? Symbian are offering developers the opportunity to showcase their mobile phone applications on the Symbian Foundation stand at Mobile World Congress (Barcelona 16-19 Feb). To take part, the application should be compelling, and built with S60 5.x.

Successful applicants will also be given two free exhibitor passes worth €599 each allowing you to enjoy the exhibition and network with other exhibitors. You will also get 2 tickets to the Symbian Foundation party.

All applicants will need to complete the call for papers on the Symbian Developer site. The best applications will be demoed on the stand.

On the UIQ Bankruptcy

uiqtech.gifI have been reflecting today on the announcement that UIQ has filed for bankruptcy. With the creation of the Symbian Foundation this was obviously inevitable. However, going further back, what happened? Why was Nokia’s use of Symbian OS so much more successful?

It’s ironic that Sony Ericsson had touchscreen phones long before the current touchscreen frenzy. In fact, as with many mobile companies, UIQ was probably too far ahead of its time. Early Sony Ericsson UIQ touchscreen phones were always expensive, high end devices with a limited market. Conversely, Nokia’s S60 phones reached down into mid-prices and many people purchased (or rather upgraded via their network operator) without even knowing it was Symbian or a smartphone.

The UIQ company itself was treated as a pawn – ownership moved around from company to company because noone really knew who should be responsible for the loss-leading but necessary entity. As with many mobile ventures, it’s just not possible to make money when there are too many partners (Symbian, UIQ and handset OEM) trying to take a slice of the revenue.

Smartphone Show Presentations

smartphoneshow.gifIf you didn’t make the Symbian Smartphone Show this year or if, like me, you only spent part of a day there and didn’t get to see many of the presentations, then you can now view them online.

Symbian Smartphone Show 2008

smartphoneshow2008.gifI had a brief visit to the Symbian Smartphone Show today. Here’s a summary of what interested me…

  • Samsung had a huge presence. It was a strange stand though – with topics that I thought were more oriented towards consumers than people in the Symbian ecosystem.
  • I couldn’t get Motorola or Sony Ericsson to commit to what they would be doing with regard to Symbian Foundation and S60. However, speaking to some 3rd parties, it’s rumoured (and I suppose predictable) that Sony Ericsson will go S60.
  • Symbian presented their proposed plans for the Symbian Foundation. There’s lots of detail I’ll post in the future. To summarise, it’s been heavily thought out to assign responsibilities, manage the complexity, maintain ongoing compatibility and discourage fragmentation. Incidentally, it’s not yet clear to me how yesterday’s Android open source release will manage these issues.
  • When I freelanced at Symbian, someone once told me that Symbian was the largest software house in the UK. Add in Nokia’s code and it’s an enormous amount of code. In the Symbian Foundation presentation we were told this is about 2000 components, 45,000 directories and 450,000 source files! 
  • I was impressed by Qt. While its use for S60 is very limited at the moment I can see great potential. It will eventually use a ‘themes’ mechanism to provide S60 look and feel (as opposed to the current generic look of apps). The resulting applications will look like they contain S60 controls but they will in fact be Qt controls. One downside is there won’t be libraries to access phone features. Instead it will be possible to call into existing DLLs – thus allowing extension via c++. Qt is actually running c++ and doesn’t use a runtime. It’s a set of c++ libraries with a designer that creates the UI. The result is a real .exe that’s wrapped for the user into a standard .sisx. It will be possible to set customisations such as Platsec capabilities, heap size etc by adding them the the Qt project file. I was told it will probably (still being worked out) be free of charge for S60 but Windows Mobile Linux etc variants will remain chargeable.
  • Symbian have a new build system called SBS that’s part of the Symbian SITK. It allows components to be built faster. It’s available to SDN++ members.
  • Symbian’s stand also had a demonstration of IBM’s new test, code coverage and profiling tool. I could see this as particularly useful for realtime (e.g. video, audio) projects.

So many people asked me, even people from within Symbian and the handset OEMs, what the affects of the Symbian Foundation might be. To be truthful, I don’t think anyone knows.

Generally, I got the impression that the many changes to the S60 ecosystem are on hold. This is due to Nokia having to wait for regulatory approval to buy Symbian.  OK, phones are still shipping and new (Symbian and Nokia) features are being implemented. However, changes to teams, processes and product lines are in a prolonged state of being planned.

(As with 2 years ago, I still find it ironic that Palm OS devices are used to scan people into the Smartphone show)

iPhone Developer Shortage

apple.gifIt’s strange how mutually independent people seem to contact me at the same time enquiring about similar things. This week, it has been people looking for iPhone developers. According to someone I spoke to today, there’s a big shortage. This has come from the success of the Apple App store and the perception that there’s money to be made making iPhone applications.

As CEOWorld says

"Nokia needs to make sure it’s developers start making the kind of money that iPhone developers make. There’s a reason that Apple will make a killing in the mobile markets and all other handset makers won’t – it’s that Apple will get a cut of almost every piece software sold on all iPhones."

It’s my opinion that companies looking to recruit iPhone developers should widen their requirements and look for Mac developers. The development environment and language is the same and it will increase the chances of someone being found  – and that person being affordable.

Also, if you are a mobile developer about to leave Sony Ericsson or UIQ, you might consider cross-training to iPhone!

Gartner Q208 Smartphone Statistics

gartner136.gifThere are some interesting figures in the latest Gartner Q208 Smartphone sales statistics. It seems smartphone growth (as measured by its proportion of the market) is stalled at 11 per cent. This is due to…

"the current economic environment"

and

"compelling touch technology mainly available on enhanced phones (based on proprietary operating systems)"

gartnersmartphoneq208.gif

At first sight, it’s disappointing that the smartphone (Symbian, Windows Mobile, iphone, Palm, Linux and RIM) market is only 11% of the whole market. However, this needs to be put into perspective with other consumer goods – especially as the whole market has  seen significant growth over the last few years.

That’s 32 million smartphone devices in one quarter. By comparison, Apple should have sold between 2.7 million to 2.9 million Macs in the September quarter. Nokia S60, RIM and Windows Mobile each had more sales than there were Mac sales.

Additional information is available in the Gartner report "Market Share: Smartphones, Worldwide, 2Q08."

iPhone 3G Instability

apple.gifNow that a significant number of third party applications are running on iPhones, it’s inevitable that the iPhone has become less stable. Phone lockups can occur and reboots are required. I have also heard from several developers that they are getting ‘low memory’ messages in their applications when the phone should, in fact, have lots of memory available.

This isn’t something limited to the iPhone. S60, UIQ and Windows Mobile all have problems when 3rd party applications behave in ways their authors didn’t originally intend.

It’s rare that applications directly interfere with one another. Operating systems provide mechanisms that give process and memory isolation. However, it’s common for applications to lock shared APIs or leave underlying hardware resources in states that can’t be used by following applications.

So what can be done about this? Testing plays a part on Symbian phones. The Symbian Signed process ensures some applications are tested against basic criteria. I say some because some applications that don’t use particular protected APIs aren’t tested and these can misbehave. Also I say basic criteria because testing isn’t and can’t be exhaustive. It’s possible for faults to pass unseen through the Symbian Signed testing.

In theory, Apple has a similar process. Apple is evaluating applications prior to releasing them on the App Store. Obviously with the volume (thousands) of applications and updates, it’s understandable that testing can’t be that thorough.

None of this is a criticism of iPhone, S60 or Symbian. It’s just an observation. It’s also not my intention to criticise or highlight the vulnerability of 3rd party applications. The major handset OEMs have shown us that built-in OS software can be just as unstable.

I have been thinking about the possiblity of new OS based protection mechanisms for a while now. I commented on how Nokia might embed a battery monitor application to report on applications unduly flattening the battery. Also, I talked about how new mechanisms might police third party applications on the phone.

Perhaps some kind of ‘intelligent status’ application could keep track of what applications use what APIs/resources and report on (and even try to fix) resultant erroneous behaviour? I wonder about the  performance hit. However, OSs such as Symbian are already hooking into API use to cater for Symbian capability-based platform security.

How Many Mobile Platforms?

mobileinternettrends.gifThere’s an interesting article at MobileInternetTrends reporting on Arun Sarin’s challenge to the mobile industry to whittle down the number of operating systems currently supported for mobile phones.

"We have 30 or 40 operating systems right now, if we had three or five operating systems, then that would be a good thing."

While I can see the benefits of doing this, I currently can’t see any market forces that might cause this to happen. In fact, the opposite is currently happening. This is because with over a billion phones being sold every year, there’s incentive and room for newcomers.

Instead, I think it’s more likely and possible to have a common ‘runtime’ or platform that sits on top of differentiated phones/operating systems. Some might say it’s already there with the web – but I think current (and near future) implementations are a very long way off what’s required.

Arun talked about having three or five operating systems. I think in the long term, it’s more realistic to wish for three or five runtimes rather than three or five operating systems.