Category Archives: nokia

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IE9 in Windows Phone will be good for cross-platform JavaScript and HTML5 apps

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, accompanied by Nokia’s Stephen Elop, showed coming updates for Windows Phone 7 at a Mobile World Congress keynote last night.

A minor update due in early March will add copy and paste, and CDMA support is also coming in the first half of 2011.

The more interesting update is planned for the second half of 2011 – I’m guessing late this year – and will have multi-tasking for 3rd party apps, as well as a mobile version of Internet Explorer 9. We were told that this will feature the same HTML 5 standards support and hardware acceleration as in the desktop version.

Windows Phone VP Joe Belfiore showed the fish demo running on Windows Phone with IE9 alongside Safari on the iPhone. The iPhone fish jerk slowly across the screen.

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Note that Apple will likely have a new iPhone out before mobile IE9 is ready, which may well equal or exceed IE9’s graphics performance.

Nevertheless, this is interesting for developers since it means that the fast “Chakra” JavaScript runtime will be available on the device. HTML and JavaScript is one route to cross-platform mobile applications.

Silverlight on Windows Phone includes a WebBrowser control which has access to isolated storage. This means you could write most of your app in cross-platform JavaScript and HTML, but wrap it in Silverlight for access to native phone features.

It is a shame though that Microsoft does not include the Sqlite local database engine found in WebKit-based mobile browsers. Sqlite is in the public domain so this may be an example of the “not invented here” syndrome. Microsoft does not even have SQL Compact Edition in Windows Phone 7, though it would not surprise me if this also appears in the autumn update. Full details are being held back until the Mix conference in April.

Although it has not been stated, it would make sense for this update to be used in the first Windows Phones from Nokia. On Sunday evening, Nokia stated its desire to deliver a Windows Phone device before the end of the year.

Mobile World Congress kicks off in Barcelona

I’m at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – and if you need any convincing about the power shift towards mobile in the industry, simply being here may be sufficient. Spread over 8 vast halls, it is huge, with 1361 exhibitors according to the latest available figures.

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The size of the event makes it impossible to cover it all. My focus is on the developer story. I have started preparing a chart of mobile development tools platforms, which is proving to be a slippery task, but will post this soon for feedback and improvement.

Yesterday I attended the Nokia press event and will post separately on this soon. It is a fascinating story, whatever the outcome, and I doubt any of the other news this week will be as significant.

Intel disappointed with Nokia’s Microsoft move, still backing MeeGo

Intel’s Suzy Ramirez has posted about the future of MeeGo Linux following Nokia’s decision to base its smartphone strategy on Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. Nokia was Intel’s key partner for MeeGo, which was formed by merging Intel’s Moblin with Nokia’s Maemo.

Although Nokia has been an important partner to Intel and MeeGo and we are disappointed by this decision, it’s important to know that this is by no means the end of MeeGo or the end to Intel’s commitment

says Ramirez, adding that “MeeGo is not just a phone OS”.

True; but with the focus also moved away from netbooks it is getting hard to see where MeeGo will have an opportunity to shine.

Intel promises to outline its mobile strategy this week at Mobile World Congress. I will be reporting from Barcelona in due course.

MeeGo, Qt, and the new Nokia: developers express their doubts

What are the implications of the new partnership between Nokia and Microsoft for MeeGo, the device-oriented Linux project sponsored by Intel and Nokia? What about Qt, the application framework that unifies Symbian and MeeGo development?

Here is what Nokia says:

Under the new strategy, MeeGo becomes an open-source, mobile operating system project. MeeGo will place increased emphasis on longer-term market exploration of next-generation devices, platforms and user experiences. Nokia still plans to ship a MeeGo-related product later this year.

Nokia is retaining MeeGo but it has moved from centre-stage to become more niche and experimental.

The snag for developers is that there are no known plans to support Qt on Windows phone. According to the letter to developers, Qt developers can look forward to the targeting low-end Symbian devices and at least one solitary MeeGo phone:

Extending the scope of Qt further will be our first MeeGo-related open source device, which we plan to ship later this year. Though our plans for MeeGo have been adapted in light of our planned partnership with Microsoft, that device will be compatible with applications developed within the Qt framework and so give Qt developers a further device to target.

Reaction from developers so far is what you might expect:

By this announcement, I’m afraid you’ve lost many faithful people (developer and consumers) like myself, who’s been a Nokia user ever since I’ve started using cellphones..

and

Wow what can I say, nokia just flat out killed any enthusiasm I had to develop on nokia platforms, I never have and never will use a windows platform. You have just killed QT, even worse killed the most promising OS out there in Meego. Elop is the worst thing that has ever happened Nokia.

and

Weak on execution, you choose to flee. What a sad day in the history of a once proud and strong company.

Nokia could fix this by demanding Qt support for Windows Phone 7.

Nokia adopts Windows Phone 7: game on

Nokia and Microsoft have announced a strategic partnership in which Nokia is to adopt Windows Phone as its “principal smartphone strategy”.

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There is a smidgen of uncertainty. The release says “Nokia and Microsoft intend…” Still, I think we should assume it will go ahead.

The key elements of the agreement:

  • Nokia adopts Windows Phone for most of its smartphones. The word “principal” leaves space for others.
  • Nokia will contribute hardware design, language support, and “help bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points”.
  • Nokia will adopt Bing search and use Microsoft adCenter.
  • Nokia Maps will be integrated with Microsoft’s mapping services.
  • Nokia’s app store will be integrated with Microsoft Marketplace.

A few observations.

  • First, this is what Windows Phone 7 needs. It is a decent mobile OS with potential for excellence, but needs better than the luke-warm support it has received so far from Microsoft’s hardware partners. I have thought in the past that Microsoft needs to make its own hardware, but this deal is better.
  • It also plays to Nokia’s strength in mobile hardware design. Recent high-end Nokia devices have had excellent hardware engineering spoilt by poor software.
  • Windows Phone 7 already has strong development tools; I have seen comments from developers that the same app takes less time to develop than on Apple’s iOS or Google Android. What it has lacked is a true mass market; this deal has the potential to change that. Windows Phone 7 is invisible in my local town centre, despite the presence of three specialist mobile phone retailers. That has to change for Microsoft’s OS to succeed.

Sounds good, but there are also reasons why this might not work out well.

  • Currently Apple iOS and Google Android are the Smartphone operating systems to beat. There is no guarantee that Nokia’s change of direction will move the market. After all, if Nokia’s current Smartphones underperform, its new Windows devices may underperform too.
  • A major change of direction is costly in both time and skills. Can Nokia deliver excellent Windows phones in time to claw back market share? In its press release, Nokia says:

    Nokia expects 2011 and 2012 to be transition years, as the company invests to build the planned winning ecosystem with Microsoft.

  • There is no tablet form factor for Windows Phone 7, and Microsoft seems resistant to the idea. Apple and Android exploit the potential of tablets and give app developers the benefit of two similar platforms for both small and medium size mobile devices.
  • Historically, Microsoft has proved a difficult partner. The tie-up with Palm for Windows Mobile a few years back did not save Palm. In mitigation, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is ex-Microsoft, and if anyone knows how to make this work, he will do.
  • Nokia will have a tough job convincing its own people of the value of this deal – by which I mean employees as well as third-party developers and partners. It is discarding a huge amount of previous investment. This could be mitigated if Nokia is able to support Qt, its primary development platform, on Windows Phone 7; but I have not seen any hint of that yet. In my view Windows Phone 7 needs a native code development option, and Nokia should press to allow it.

Nevertheless, the battle for mobile has just become more interesting. This is a huge boost to Microsoft’s phone and many in the industry will now be taking it seriously for the first time.

MeeGo NoGo: things look bad for the Intel/Nokia Linux project

A sad post yesterday from MeeGo contributor Andrew Wafaa suggests that MeeGo on netbooks may no longer happen:

Basically by all accounts MeeGo is stopping all work on the Netbook UX. Yup, all our hard work is now almost for nothing 🙁

This is remarkable. The original Moblin project, sponsored by Intel, was all about bringing an excellent user experience to Linux on netbooks. The first netbooks ran Linux, but met resistance from a general public familiar with Windows; yet Linux is more suitable for netbooks than Windows in its present form.

Moblin is different. It’s a friendly way to get the most out of your netbook. It doesn’t work like most other computers because it’s optimized for enjoying media, interacting with your social networks and the internet.

wrote Moblin Community Manager Paul Cooper back in 2009, when netbooks were hot.

The problem: tech trends sometimes outpace corporate planning. Moblin was a good idea in 2008, but nothing was delivered; and by the time it looked like it might be ready, the market seemed to want tablets – or Apple iPads – rather than netbooks; and whatever problem Moblin was addressing was already solved by Google Android.

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Two years later, in February 2010, Moblin merged with Nokia’s Maemo, creating a new project called MeeGo. The new focus would be tablets and smartphones:

The power and capability of handhelds has reached astounding levels – netbooks have been a runaway success – and connected TVs, tablets, in-vehicle infotainment, and media phones are fast growing new markets for devices with unheard of performance. Our goal is to develop the best software to go with these devices.

said Intel’s Imad Sousou.

So where are the MeeGo smartphones? Well, maybe we will see one at Mobile World Congress next week. But Nokia is in disarray. According to a leaked memo from new CEO Stephen Elop:

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

Perhaps Nokia will progress MeeGo smartphones with renewed vigour; but what looks more likely is that Nokia will embrace a rival platform, maybe Google Android or Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.

That might well be alongside MeeGo, rather than replacing it, but Nokia needs to focus its energy and I would guess that MeeGo will lose out.

It may be the beginning of the end for a promising project that has progressed too slowly.

Update: Reuters is reporting that “two industry sources close to the company” say Nokia has ended development of its first MeeGo smartphone

Nokia plus Windows Phone 7 – would that be a smart move?

The rumour is that Nokia’s CEO, ex-Microsoft Stephen Elop, is planning a major strategy announcement on Friday February 11. The obvious move would be to embrace a new Smartphone platform, since neither Symbian nor MeeGo look likely to catch up with frontrunners Google Android or Apple iPhone. Could Elop be planning to partner with his former company and embrace Windows Phone 7?

It is a fascinating proposition. Here is the case in favour. For both Nokia and Microsoft, Android is the key competition in this market. The momentum behind Android is deterring both phone manufacturers and operators from investing seriously in Windows Phone 7. Microsoft’s phone is well-regarded, but has made little impact on the general public. Nokia could change that; it could make beautiful Windows 7 phones and get them to the mass market.

Microsoft has also done a good job with the developer tools for Windows Phone 7, with Visual Studio 2010, Silverlight, XNA, and the .NET Framework.

On the other hand, if Nokia were to adopt Windows Phone 7 for its high-end phone platform, would it not alienate its own development community, which is oriented towards Linux and C/C++? I think it would, unless Nokia insisted that as part of its deal with Microsoft, Windows Phone 7 would also support native code development with Qt, Nokia’s cross-platform application framework. This would be great news for Microsoft as well, though it might not recognise it. Windows Phone 7 needs to allow native code development, and Qt is ideal for the purpose. Qt already supports Windows CE, which underlies Windows Phone 7. If Nokia could present Windows Phone 7 as just another platform for Qt, the deal would be palatable for existing Nokia developers.

If Nokia were to announce this, it would transform the prospects for Microsoft’s Smartphone OS as well as helping Nokia to make a renewed impact.

Now for the case against. I am not sure that Qt on Windows Phone 7 would be acceptable to Microsoft, which might prefer to keep developers locked to Visual Studio and .NET; and Nokia has an easy alternative, which is to adopt Android instead. Qt support is still an issue, but there is already an independent project to bring Qt to Android. The combination of the Android and Nokia brands has obvious appeal, whereas taking on Windows Phone 7 would be risky.

The biggest shadow over Windows Phone 7 is cast by Microsoft itself. I do not doubt the commitment of the team which builds it within Microsoft, nor the quality of the developer tools. I do question though whether Microsoft as a whole sees a long-term future for Windows Phone 7 and its “Metro” user interface. The strong hint at CES was that Windows 8, rather than Windows Phone 7, is the basis of Microsoft’s tablet strategy; and if that proves to be the case, then Windows Phone 7 may gradually be displaced. Another puzzle is how Microsoft intends to use “Jupiter”, a rumoured new user interface library for Windows that may well be designed with mobile and touch control in mind. Maybe full Windows with “Jupiter” is the future of Microsoft’s mobile platform, rather than Windows Phone 7? I discuss this in more detail here.

There is enough uncertainty around Windows Phone 7, and enough buzz around Android, that Google’s mobile platform looks to me more attractive than Microsoft’s from Nokia’s perspective. I do not dismiss the Windows Phone idea though; it would be a bold and interesting move.

I expect this post to be very out of date soon, if not by Friday, then certainly by early next week at Mobile World Congress.

Update: A Nokia and Microsoft partnership is looking more likely since Google’s Vic Gundotra tweeted:

#feb11 "Two turkeys do not make an Eagle".

Ten big tech trends from 2010

This was an amazing year for tech. Here are some of the things that struck me as significant.

Sun Java became Oracle Java

Oracle acquired Sun and set about imposing its authority on Java. Java is still Java, but Oracle lacks Sun’s commitment to open source and community – though even in Sun days there was tension in this area. That was nothing to the fireworks we saw in 2010, with Java Community Process members resigning, IBM switching from its commitment to the Apache Harmony project to the official OpenJDK, and the Apache foundation waging a war of words against Oracle that was impassioned but, it seems, futile.

Microsoft got cloud religion

Only up to a point, of course. This is the Windows and Office company, after all. However – and this is a little subjective – this was the year when Microsoft convinced me it is serious about Windows Azure for hosting our applications and data. In addition, it seems to me that the company is willing to upset its partners if necessary for the sake of its hosted Exchange and SharePoint – BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), soon to become Office 365.

This is a profound change for Microsoft, bearing in mind its business model. I spoke to a few partners when researching this article for the Register and was interested by the level of unease that was expressed.

Microsoft also announced some impressive customer wins for BPOS, especially in government, though the price the customers pay for these is never mentioned in the press releases.

Microsoft Silverlight shrank towards Windows-only

Silverlight is Microsoft’s browser plug-in which delivers multimedia and the .NET Framework to Windows and Mac; it is also the development platform for Windows Phone 7. It still works on a Mac, but in 2010 Microsoft made it clear that cross-platform Silverlight is no longer its strategy (if it ever was), and undermined the Mac version by adding Windows-specific features that interoperate with the local operating system. Silverlight is still an excellent runtime, powerful, relatively lightweight, easy to deploy, and supported by strong tools in Visual Studio 2010. If you have users who do not run Windows though, it now looks a brave choice.

The Apple iPad was a hit

I still have to pinch myself when thinking about how Microsoft now needs to catch up with Apple in tablet computing. I got my first tablet in 2003, yes seven years ago, and it ran Windows. Now despite seven years of product refinement it is obvious that Windows tablets miss the mark that Apple has hit with its first attempt – though drawing heavily on what it learnt with the equally successful iPhone. I see iPads all over the place, in business as well as elsewhere, and it seems to me that the success of a touch interface on this larger screen signifies a transition in personal computing that will have a big impact.

Google Android was a hit

Just when Apple seemed to have the future of mobile computing in its hands, Google’s Android alternative took off, benefiting from mass adoption by everyone-but-Apple among hardware manufacturers. Android is not as elegantly designed or as usable as Apple’s iOS, but it is close enough; and it is a relatively open platform that runs Adobe Flash and other apps that do not meet Apple’s approval. There are other contenders: Microsoft Windows Phone 7; RIM’s QNX-based OS in the PlayBook; HP’s Palm WebOS; Nokia Symbian and Intel/Nokia MeeGo – but how many mobile operating systems can succeed? Right now, all we can safely say is that Apple has real competition from Android.

HP fell out with Microsoft

Here is an interesting one. The year kicked off with a press release announcing that HP and Microsoft love each other to the extent of $250 million over three years – but if you looked closely, that turned out to be less than a similar deal in 2006. After that, the signs were even less friendly. HP acquired Palm in April, signalling its intent to compete with Windows Mobile rather than adopting it; and later this year HP announced that it was discontinuing its Windows Home Server range. Of course HP remains a strong partner for Windows servers, desktops and laptops; but these are obvious signs of strain.

The truth though is that these two companies need one another. I think they should kiss and make up.

eBook readers were a hit

I guess this is less developer-oriented; but 2010 was the year when electronic book publishing seemed to hit the mainstream. Like any book lover I have mixed feelings about this and its implications for bookshops. I doubt we will see books disappear to the same extent as records and CDs; but I do think that book downloads will grow rapidly over the next few years and that paper-and-ink sales will diminish. It is a fascinating tech battle too: Amazon Kindle vs Apple iPad vs the rest (Sony Reader, Barnes and Noble Nook, and others which share their EPUB format). I have a suspicion that converged devices like the iPad may win this one, but displays that are readable in sunlight have special requirements so I am not sure.

HTML 5 got real

2010 was a huge year for HTML 5 – partly because Microsoft announced its support in Internet Explorer 9, currently in beta; and partly because the continued growth of browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, and the WebKit-based Google Chrome, Apple Safari and numerous mobile browsers showed that HTML 5 would be an important platform with or without Microsoft. Yes, it is fragmented and unfinished; but more and more of HTML 5 is usable now or in the near future.

Adobe Flash survived Apple and HTML 5

2010 was the year of Steve Jobs’ notorious Thoughts on Flash as well as a big year for HTML 5, which encroaches on territory that used to require the services of a browser plug-in. Many people declared Adobe Flash dead, but the reality was different and the company had a great year. Apple’s focus on design and usability helps Adobe’s design-centric approach even while Apple’s refusal to allow Flash on its mobile computers opposes it.

Windows 7 was a hit

Huge relief in Redmond as Windows 7 sold and sold. The future belongs to mobile and cloud; but Windows is not going away soon, and version 7 is driving lots of upgrades as even XP diehards move over. I’m guessing that we will get first sight of Windows 8 in 2011. Another triumph, or another Vista?

Nokia Maemo, Intel Moblin gives way to MeeGo

Nokia’s Maemo operating system, a Linux distribution for mobile devices, is being merged with the Intel-sponsored Moblin distribution to form MeeGo, under the direction of the Linux Foundation:

MeeGo combines Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo projects at the Linux Foundation to create one open source uber-platform for the next generation of computing devices: tablets, pocketable computers, netbooks, automotive IVI and more.

says the Foundation’s Jim Zemlin.

Watching the joint Intel and Nokia interview it seemed to me that this is more Maemo than Moblin, especially since Nokia’s Qt framework and Qt Creator IDE is mentioned as the primary application development platform for MeeGo.

The most significant factor is that Intel and Nokia will now be backing the same mobile OS. You would expect this to have an impact, though I guess the move is an attempt to win back mindshare that has gone to Android, the up and coming mobile OS from Google.

Although both Android and MeeGo are based on Linux, the Android OS has a completely different development model based on Java rather than C/C++.

Is Apple iPhone now unstoppable in the mobile platform wars?

I’ve been reflecting on a chat I had with a mobile application developer at Qt Developer Days last week. He thinks that Apple has all-but won in the battle to dominate the SmartPhone platform.

His reasoning is based on a couple of things. The first is that Apple is easily outpacing others in application availability and number of app installations. I guess there are many ways of counting this, but have a look at these figures. Handango, which has been in this game for over a decade, reported in January that it had over 140,000 apps and 100 million all-time downloads across a number of SmartPhone platforms. Apple reported this month that it has 85,000 apps and 2 billion downloads.

His second point is that Apple is one of the few companies to understand that users like consistency better than choice. “If I pick up an iPhone, my fingers know what to do,” he told me. This makes users reluctant to switch, except to another iPhone. By contrast, Nokia has a zillion different devices supposedly tailored for the needs of different customer segments, but as a result there is no sense of a consistent platform and users can easily switch away. Windows Mobile has the same problem but with multiple vendors as well as frequent design changes from each vendor.

These are points well made. If the much-rumoured Apple tablet appears, we can expect the App Store concept to extend its reach to larger devices as well. No wonder Adobe is so determined not to be left out on this platform, announcing a compiler to convert Flash applications to native iPhone code, as well as stepping up its campaign for Flash in the iPhone browser.

That said, I can think of counter-arguments. One is that iPhone isn’t yet, as far as I know, strong for corporate development. Windows Mobile has some advantages here, for Microsoft platform companies, while Java (not available on iPhone so far) is also appealing to corporate developers.

Another is that Google Android will give strong competition and take advantage of Apple’s weakness, its reluctance to abandon premium pricing.

Third, the consistency argument only goes so far. If you look at today’s iPod touch, for example, compared to the first iPods, there are huge differences. Users will in fact switch if there is convincing value in what is new.

Fourth, the more iPhone grows in importance, the more discontent over the closed nature of its platform will grow.

It is still early days for SmartPhones as a development platform; and while it is fun to speculate, things may look very different in a couple of years.

Still, let’s acknowledge that right now it is advantage Apple.

See also: What’s your choice in the mobile battleground?

and this great rant from a frustrated Symbian/Nokia developer:

Calling all Nokia & Symbian geniuses: Am I wrong?