Category Archives: nokia


Qt goes mobile, gets bling, aims for broader appeal

Here at Qt Developer Days in Munich we’ve heard how Nokia wants to see “Qt everywhere”, and will be supporting Qt on its Maemo operating system and on Symbian, as well as adding specific support for Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6, “Snow Leopard”. Qt already works on Microsoft Windows Mobile, and of course on Linux which is where it all started. What about Google Android, Palm WebOS, Apple iPhone? Nothing has been promised, but there is hope that Qt will eventually work on at least some of these other systems.

So is “Qt everywhere” a realistic proposition? Here’s a few impressions from the conference. First, a bit of context. Qt is a C++ framework for cross-platform development. and although bindings for other languages exist, Nokia says it is focused on excellence in C++ rather than working with multiple languages. Developers get the advantages of both native code executables and cross-platform support, and Qt is popular on embedded systems as well as desktops and mobile devices.

Qt is an open source framework which was developed by a company called Trolltech which Nokia acquired in 2008. Its motivation, one assumes, was to simplify development for its own multiple operating systems, especially Maemo and Symbian. Still, it has also taken its responsibilities to the open source community seriously. Qt was originally available either under the GPL, which requires developers to make their own applications available under the GPL as well, or under a commercial license. This limited Qt’s take-up. In March Nokia introduced a third option, the LGPL, which is a more liberal and allows commercial development using the free license. The result, we were told, has been a 250% increase in usage (though how this is defined is uncertain) accompanied by “a small drop in revenue.”

Although the revenue decrease is troubling, it is not a disaster for Nokia whose main business is selling hardware; and if take up continues to increase I’d expect revenue to follow.

Since the Nokia acquisition, Qt has been energetically developed. 2009 has seen the release of a dedicated IDE called Qt Creator. I was interested to see a company that has chosen not to go the Eclipse route for its primary IDE, though there are plug-ins for both Eclipse and Visual Studio. The trolls explained that Eclipse came with too much baggage and they wanted something more perfectly suited to its purpose, a lean approach that is in keeping with the Qt philosophy.

Another important move is the inclusion of Webkit within the framework, the same open source HTML engine that powers Apple’s Safari, Adobe AIR, and the browser in numerous Smartphones. Webkit also comes with a Javascript engine, which Nokia is exploiting in several interesting ways.

The big deal at Qt Developer Days was another new project called Kinetic. This is comprised of four parts:

1. An animation API.

2. A state machine.

3. A graphical effects API.

4. A declarative API, currently called QML (Qt Markup Language), though this may change.

Many of these pieces, though not the last, are already present in Qt 4.6, just released in technical preview. Nokia has not announced a specific date for Kinetic, though there were mutters about “first half of 2010”.

The thinking behind Kinetic is to make it easier to support the graphical effects and transitions that users have come to expect, as well as improving the designer-developer workflow – showing that it is not only Adobe and Microsoft who are thinking about this.

QML is significant for several reasons. It is a JavaScript-like API: we were told that Nokia started out with XML but found it cumbersome, and settled on JavaScript instead. It is designed to work well with visual design tools, and Nokia has one code-named Bauhaus which will be part of Qt Creator. Finally, it allows snippets of JavaScript so that developers can create dynamic user interfaces.

At runtime, QML is rendered by a viewer widget, which can be programmatically controlled in C++ just like other Qt widgets.  

Nokia’s hope is that designers can be persuaded to work directly in the QML designer, enabling free exchange of code between designers and developers. It is a nice idea, though I doubt designers will easily transition from the more comfortable world of Photoshop and Flash. However, even if in the end QML is used more by developers than designers, it does greatly simplify the task of creating a dynamic Qt UI. Note that there is already a visual GUI designer in Qt Creator but this is geared towards static layouts.

Long term, who knows, we may see entire applications written in QML, opening up Qt to a new and broader audience.

You can see the latest Qt roadmap here.

Qt pros and cons

I was impressed that attendance here has increased – from around 500 last year to around 700 – despite the economy. Those developers I spoke to seemed to like Qt, praising the way it self-manages memory, though some find the model-view aspect too complex and apparently this is to be improved. Nokia’s stewardship and openness is appreciated and the Qt roadmap generally liked, though there is concern that its understandable focus on mobile may leave the desktop under-served.

Cross-platform capability is increasingly important, and for those who want the performance and capability of C++ along with really good Linux support – important for embedded use – Qt is a strong contender. The focus on mobile is right, not only because of Nokia’s own needs, but because demand for Smartphone apps can only increase.

Integrating with Webkit is a smart move, opening up possibilities for hybrid web/desktop applications and giving Windows developers an alternative to embedded IE with all its quirks.

The open source aspect is another strength. This is now a good selling point if you developing for certain governments (the UK is one such) or other organisations that have a bias towards open source.

That said, talk of Qt everywhere is premature. The mobile space is fractured, and without iPhone, WebOS or Android Nokia cannot claim to have a universal solution. Nor has anyone else; but I’m just back from Adobe MAX where we heard about wider support for the Flash runtime. Then again, few choose between C++ or Flash; Adobe’s runtime is pretty much off the map for attendees here.

Qt is well-established in its niche, and is in good hands. I will be interested to see whether Nokia is successful in broadening its appeal.

Incidentally, if you can get to San Francisco you can still catch Qt Developer Days as it is running there from November 2nd-4th.

Nokia announces N900, juggles three operating systems

Nokia has announced the N900 Internet Tablet running the Linux-based Maemo operating system. This is the latest in a series of Tablets (not to be confused with Microsoft’s Tablet PCs), but the first one to include “cellular features”, which means it can make and receive phone calls, though the press release hardly mentions it.

This is a big deal since this is now in effect a SmartPhone (as the Reg observes) and therefore may be offered with operator subsidies, which seems essential for grabbing market share in the crazy mobile phone business. Nokia needs a success with this one, as its previous Tablets have made little impact beyond an enthusiast niche.

The full specification shows support for quad-band GSM EDGE as well as tri-band WCDMA. There’s also integrated GPS; wi-fi; 5 megapixel camera; Mozilla web browser (not WebKit); Adobe Flash 9.4; Mail for Exchange; 1GB of RAM split between application memory and virtual memory, and 32GB internal storage. Oh, and there’s a slide-out QWERTY keyboard so this could be a great device for messaging.

This comes just after Nokia’s Windows netbook announcement, the Booklet 3G, while the company is also running the Symbian Foundation and supposedly driving Symbian as an open-source mobile OS to rival Google’s Android.

The big question: how many operating systems does Nokia need? I can understand its desire to get on the Windows 7 bandwagon with the Booklet 3G, but why continue with both Maemo and Symbian?

Still, the N900 looks like a neat device; see here for full information and images.

Symbian appeals to Traveling Geeks: develop for our platform

I attended a Traveling Geeks event in London last night, a party sponsored mainly by Symbian and NESTA. I returned with a large pile of business cards from folk involved in a diverse range of initiatives. Kate Arkless Gray told me about Save our Sounds, a BBC World Service project to archive and map interesting and endangered sounds from around the world; while Sarah Blow sought to convince me that I don’t just need Twitter, I need Tweetmeme to track what is happening on the world’s most public short message service.

Digitrad wants me to sign up for, which means registering a .tel domain with its service and using it as a public home page, email address and voicemail box. It’s not clear to me what advantage it has over all the other third-parties who want to own my digital identity, except that Digitrad is smaller and therefore less threatening than Google or Facebook. I’m happy with conventional registrars.

From my perspective, Symbian managed to dominate the event with engaging images around the walls and numerous representatives to talk up its mobile platform. The Symbian story is an interesting one. Originally developed by Psion, it was spun off in 1998 into an independent company co-owned by the giants of mobile at the time: Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Psion itself. Nokia proceeded to acquire more and more of Symbian, achieving greater control but also – it seemed to me – reducing the chance it once had of becoming an industry standard. Other vendors became wary of depending on an operating system controlled by a competitor. Linux had greater appeal – as seen in both the Palm Pre and Google Android – while Apple did its own thing with OS X on the iPhone, and Microsoft ploughed on with Windows Mobile.

Last year Nokia responded to the pressure by announcing plans to acquire Symbian in its entirety and then to give it to a new Symbian Foundation, an open source, collaborative project along the same lines as Eclipse. Developers can sign up to get the tools for programming Symbian applications in C++, Java, Python, Ruby, Adobe Flash, C# or HTML/JavaScript. I was told that Symbian intends to be even more open than Android. It restores Symbian’s cross-industry potential though there is now more competition.

Should you develop for Symbian? The Symbian Foundation is a great move, but in the App Store era I suspect deployment issues are even more critical than the quality of the OS or its development tools. Developers will go where they can find customers. Apple is reaping the rewards of controlling the entire platform and marginalizing the mobile operators.

Still, as long as Apple is content for the iPhone to be punishingly expensive, it leaves space for others. The appeal of Symbian will depend not only on its success among device manufacturers, but also on how easy it is for users to find, purchase and install applications.

There is also the matter of reliable, fast and affordable internet access, the lack of which has so far spoilt every mobile device I have owned.

Thoughts on Mix08 Day One

So how was the Mix08 keynote? Let’s start with the good stuff. It went without a hitch; it was engaging; we saw some terrific Silverlight demos; and Internet Explorer 8 looks like a compelling upgrade. Not all Microsoft’s keynotes are this good.

Did Ray Ozzie make sense of Microsoft’s overall Internet strategy? I’m not sure. He was too visionary for my taste. That said, he made some interesting remarks. He says that “all our software will be significantly refactored” to better integrate with cloud-based services. He says that businesses will be able to choose between on-premise and cloud-based services. He says that virtualization is the key to a rise in utility computing. He also spoke of advertising as the commercial engine behind the next generation Internet.

Scott Guthrie, now Corporate Vice President of Developer Division, gave an impressive tour of what is happening with ASP.NET and Silverlight, with the latter the main focus. He says that Silverlight is now getting 1.5 million downloads daily. As expected, he announced the beta of Silverlight 2.0, which you can download now. He also announced Nokia’s support for Silverlight on Symbian, though this news actually broke on Monday. It is still significant, though getting any runtime deployed on mobiles is an arduous task: carriers as well as manufacturers have to be convinced of the value. He also mentioned that Sharepoint is getting Silverlight web parts.

Silverlight demos included Aston Martin, Hard Rock Cafe, and NBC’s site for the 2008 Olympics. Highlighted features included Silverlight’s zooming ability, which is the technology formerly known as Seadragon and now called DeepZoom, and HD video. The Olympic demos were engaging, with features like the ability to do instant, user-controlled replay of live video. Aston Martin’s demo showed how well Silverlight works for exploring an online showroom, inspecting and customizing your chosen vehicle in a virtual environment (I saw a similar Flash-based demo at Adobe’s Flex and Air launch a couple of weeks ago).

Dean Hachamovitch showed off IE8; I blogged about this yesterday.

Now, the tough questions. Silverlight looks great; but we saw similar demos here last year. Silverlight 2.0, which is the one most people care about, is now closer to release; but equally Adobe has moved forward with Flash, in particular improving its video capabilities, and the question hanging in the air is: what does Silverlight offer that Flash does not? In this respect, one of the more interesting remarks in the keynote came from a guy from Weatherbug, who demoed a Silverlight app which he said was running on Symbian. He observed that their developers had also tried to develop in Flash Lite, but it has proved costly (in development time) and “didn’t really work”. The Silverlight app by contrast had been done in three weeks. This is Flash Lite of course, not the full desktop Flash, but it would be fascinating to know what the critical differences were.

As for IE8, it is a huge step forward in standards support, but if you subtract what is arguably catch-up to FireFox, what are we left with? Activities and Web Slices look handy, but these are not major pieces. IE8 is not done yet, and apparently there will be more user-centric features before it ships – but when will that be? Microsoft’s Chris Wilson told me last year that it would be around two years after IE7, which would be autumn 2008, but that looks optimistic to me.

Overall my feelings are appropriately mixed. There is plenty of good stuff here, and Silverlight will be great for Microsoft platform developers who can integrate it seamlessly into their ASP.NET web applications. Whether it can mount a serious challenge to Flash in the wider Internet remains an open question.

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Trolltech says Qt for Windows CE coming in May

Trolltech has announced Windows CE support in the 4.4 release of Qt, its cross-platform development framework. A pre-release is already available. Qt already supports desktop Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, so this plugs a significant gap. Features include SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) and OpenGL. It’s good to see this going ahead  despite Nokia’s acquisition of Trolltech, which is set to be completed in the second quarter of 2008. Nokia is committed to a couple of rival embedded operating systems, Linux and Symbian.

What about Qt for Symbian then? There are hints that it will happen. Then again, perhaps Nokia will increase its focus on Linux?

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