Category Archives: symbian

Will Nokia’s Qt come to Windows Phone?

When Nokia acquired Trolltech back in 2008, it made perfect sense as a way of supporting development on Symbian, its smartphone operating system, and nudging the Qt project, which provides a cross-platform framework for native applications, more towards mobile rather than just desktop application support. It also made sense as Nokia worked on Maemo and then Meego, its Linux for mobile project.

Then came February 2011 and CEO Stephen Elop’s announcement that Nokia would partner with Microsoft and make Windows Phone its primary smartphone operating system. Windows Phone 7 does not support native code development, other than by operators, manufacturers, and of course Microsoft itself. What future for Qt at Nokia now?

Here at Blackberry Devcon Europe, Nokia’s Lars Knoll, Qt Chief Maintainer, has been introducing Qt to Blackberry developers. Qt forms a critical part of RIM’s Blackberry 10 (BBX) platform, based on the PlayBook tablet OS and set to come to Blackberry phones later this year. The Cascades UI framework, for hardware-accelerated 2D and 3D rendering on BBX, uses Qt core and an adaption of QML (Qt Modeling Language). You can use Qt with or without Cascades on BBX.

Lars Knol, Nokia

Given that Nokia makes mobile devices which are in competition with RIM’s devices, it may seem odd that Nokia is supporting Qt on Blackberry. I asked Knoll about the status of Qt within Nokia following the move to Windows Phone.

There’s not too much I can say right now. The only thing I can repeat is that we’re still investing in Qt. We’re actually hiring more people to work on Qt. Qt is an essential part of the strategy for the next billion. That’s all I can say right now, but stay tuned, in time you’ll hear more.

He added later that Nokia is in business to make money; in other words, there are strong business reasons for Nokia to continue with Qt. The “next billion” reference refers to Nokia’s stated intention to bring apps to the next billion.

One possibility is that Qt will in fact support a future version of Windows Phone. It is already clear that Windows Phone 8 will use the same kernel as Windows 8 and we can expect a unified development platform build on the Windows Runtime (WinRT), which does support native code development.

It is not too much of a stretch then to expect a future Qt framework that will target Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets. Nokia’s Elop has also hinted that it is interested in Windows tablets as well as phones in future.

Android only 23% open says report; Linux, Eclipse win praise

Vision Mobile has published a report on what it calls the Open Governance Index. The theory is that if you want to measure the extent to which an open source project is really open, you should look at its governance, rather than focusing on the license under which code is released:

The governance model used by an open source project encapsulates all the hard questions about a project. Who decides on the project roadmap? How transparent are the decision-making processes? Can anyone follow the discussions and meetings taking place in the community? Can anyone create derivatives based on the project? What compliance requirements are there for creating derivative handsets or applications, and how are these requirements enforced? Governance determines who has influence and control over the project or platform – beyond what is legally required in the open source license.

The 45-page report is free to download, and part-funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Program. It is a good read, covering 8 open source projects, including the now-abandoned Symbian Foundation. Here is the result:

Open Governance Index (%open)
Eclipse 84%
Linux 71%
WebKit 68%
Mozilla 65%
MeeGo 61%
Symbian 58%
Qt 58%
Android 23%

The percentages are derived by analysing four aspects of each project.

  • Access covers availability of source code and transparency of decisions.
  • Development refers to the transparency of contributions and acceptance processes.
  • Derivatives covers constraints on use of the project, such as trademarks and distribution channels.
  • Community structure looks at project membership and its hierarchy.

What is wrong with Android? I am not sure how the researchers get to 23%, but it scores badly in all four categories. The report observes that the code to the latest “Honeycomb” version of Android has not been published. It also has this to say about the Open Handset Alliance:

When launched, the Open Handset Alliance served the purpose of a public industry endorsement for
Android. Today, however, the OHA serves little purpose besides a stamp of approval for OHA
members; there is no formal legal entity, no communication processes for members nor frequent
member meetings.

By contrast, Eclipse and Linux are shining lights. MeeGo and Mozilla are also praised, thought the report does mention Mozilla’s “Benevolent dictators”:

In the case of conflicts and disputes, these are judged by one of two Mozilla “benevolent dictators” – Brendan Eich for technical disputes and Mitchell Baker for non-technical disputes.

Qt comes out OK but has a lower score because of Nokia’s control over decision making, though it sounds like this was written before Nokia’s Windows Mobile revolution.

WebKit scores well though the report notes that most developers work for Apple or Google and that there is:

Little transparency regarding how decisions are made, and no public information provided on this

Bearing that in mind, it seems odd to me that WebKit comes above Mozilla, but I doubt the percentages should be taken too seriously.

It is good to see a report that looks carefully at what it really means to be open, and the focus on governance makes sense.

Nokia’s Elop fears mobile duopoly, but it is already here

It is day two of Mobile World Congress here in Barcelona; and everyone is pondering the implications of Nokia’s Windows Phone partnership with Microsoft. It is a pivotal moment for the industry, but not necessarily in the sense that the two partners hope.

Let me state the obvious for a moment. This is not good for Nokia, though it might be “the least bad of all the poor choices facing Nokia”, as Mikael Hed of Rovio (Angry Birds) put it yesterday. Nokia has huge market share, but it was already falling sharply, as these figures from late last year illustrate. Nokia’s total market share declined from 36.7% in Q3 2009 to 28.2% in Q3 2010; and its Smartphone (Symbian) share from 44.6% to 36.6%. These are still big numbers, but will inevitably decline further.

Following last week’s announcement, though, Nokia will transition from a company which formerly commanded its own destiny with Symbian, to one that is an OEM for Microsoft. The savings will be substantial, as CEO Stephen Elop noted at the press event here on Sunday evening, but it is a lesser role.

Why has Nokia turned to Microsoft? It is not a matter of Microsoft planting its own man in Nokia in a desperate effort to win market share. On Sunday Elop said he was no trojan horse, and also laid to rest rumours that he is conflicted thanks to a large Microsoft shareholding; he is selling as fast as the law allows, he said, and his shareholding was nowhere close to what was alleged in any case.

Rather, the Nokia board brought Elop in specifically to make tough decisions and likely form an alliance with either Google or Microsoft. I am not sure that former Nokia exec Tomi Ahonen is the best source of commentary – he is unremittingly negative about the alliance – but I like his piece on the choices facing the board last year, when it must have decided that MeeGo, the mobile Linux co-sponsored by Intel, could not deliver what was needed.

Elop chose Microsoft, his argument being that the choice was between Android and Windows, and that going Android would have created a duopoly that was good for Google but bad for the industry. By going Windows Phone “we have created a three horse race,” he said.

It is a fair point as far as it goes – though maybe he takes too little account of RIM, especially in the enterprise market – but whether Nokia can really break that duopoly is an open question. It is not a question of how the duopoly can be avoided: it already exists.


Given the absence of Apple, this Mobile World Congress could almost be called the Android World Congress, such is the dominance of Google’s mobile OS. It works, it is well-known, it is freely customisable by manufacturers and operators. Android is not perfect, but it is a de facto standard which nicely meets the needs of the non-Apple mobile industry.

This morning three significant far Eastern manufacturers announced new Android devices; none announced Windows Phone devices. The three are HTC, Alcatel Onetouch (which claims to be the fastest-growing handset provider in the world), and Huawei. At the Alcatel Onetouch press conference I asked CEO George Guo why his company was focused on Android:

Why Android? Android is a phenomena. It is what every operator wants and also what the consumer is looking for. The iPhone is great but just has one type, and also it is highly priced. People want something different so are looking for variety. Android-based phones provide that opportunity. With Android phones you can range from $100 up to several hundred. Also we can make customisations based on the Android system. We can fit different kinds of customers’ needs. That’s why, from the whole ecosystem point of view, because recently (laughs) people talk about this a lot, we think that Android does provide quite an ecosystem.

Note how Guo (unprompted) makes reference both to the other member of the duopoly, Apple, and the new pretender, Microsoft/Nokia.

However good their products, rivals such as RIM with its new QNX-based OS and HP with WebOS will struggle to compete for developer and public attention.

Does Windows Phone have better chances? If Nokia could easily translate its Symbian sales last year to Windows Phone sales next year, then sure, but that would take a miracle that beleaguered Nokia is unlikely to deliver. Windows Phone 7, launched last year, demonstrates that despite its desktop dominance Microsoft cannot easily win mobile market share, and that partners such as HTC, Samsung and LG are focused elsewhere. Nokia’s commitment will greatly boost Microsoft’s market share in mobile, but to what percentage is frankly hard to guess.

There are a couple of other unanswered questions. One is about differentiation. In order to compete with Apple, Microsoft has made a point of locking down the Windows Phone 7 specification, despite its multiple manufacturers, requiring Qualcomm Snapdragon for the chipset, specific hardware features, and a relatively unmolested GUI. If Microsoft continues along these lines, it will be hard for Nokia to be truly distinctive. On the other hand, if it abandons them, then it risks spoiling the consistency of the platform.

Another big question relates to tablets. Microsoft has no announced tablet strategy, except insofar as it is not using the Windows Phone 7 OS for tablets and has hinted that the next full version of Windows  will be tablet-optimized. By contrast, both Apple and Google support both smartphones and tablets with a single OS; indeed, it is hard to define the difference between a small tablet and a smartphone. Here at Mobile World Congress, Viewsonic told me that a 4” screen defines it: less than that, it’s a smartphone; more than that, it’s a tablet.

What are Nokia’s tablet plans? Will it change Microsoft’s mind, or wait for Windows 8 following meekly in Redmond’s footsteps, or do something with MeeGo?

Elop has also in my view made a mistake in shattering Nokia’s Qt-based developer community. Qt was the unifying platform between Symbian and MeeGo, and could have been the same for Windows Phone 7. Why? Here’s what Elop told us on Sunday:

What is happening to Qt: “Will Nokia put Qt on Windows Phone? No that’s not the plan. Here is the reason. If we, on the Windows Phone platform, encourage a forking between what natively is provided on the Windows Phone platform and Qt, then we create an environment where potentially we could confuse the developers, confuse the consumers, and even create an environment where Windows Phone could advance slower than the competition because we are carrying two principal development platforms.

I respect Elop; but I think he has been sold a line here. Developers are not easily confused – how patronising – and Windows Phone already has a native code SDK, available to operators and manufacturers. Many of Microsoft’s own applications for the phone are native rather than Silverlight or XNA. In principle, there is no reason why consumers would be able to tell the difference. I think Microsoft is protecting its own development stack and sacrificing Nokia’s developer community in the process.

On a more positive note, I do not forget that Elop is a software guy. I think he recognises that unless you are Apple, hardware commoditisation is inevitable whatever OS you choose. Asked about Windows Phone, the Huawei exec at this morning’s briefing said his company would consider it when the next version comes out. What he means is: if the demand is there, they will make it. If they make it, then Nokia is competing with the same economies of scale and labour that apply to Android.

Elop sees an answer in apps, ads and services: the ecosystem about which he constantly reminds us. On Sunday he noted that the partnership with Microsoft includes an advertising platform, and that this is potentially a significant source of future revenue. The new Nokia may be a lesser company than the old, but one that is better able to survive the challenge of making money from handsets.

Android the new Windows?

I’ve just reviewed the LG GW620 Android phone. I was impressed by its features but disappointed by its usability – it’s not that bad, but scrolling web pages accurately with touch I found almost impossible – it’s hard to avoid scrolling too far and missing out a chunk – and why does LG supply the device with four different email clients?

Apple’s iPhone is much more expensive and compares badly on features, but has the usability and polish that the LG phone lacks.

OEM Android versus Apple iPhone – it reminds me of Windows vs Apple on the desktop.

One is for the mass market, cheap, feature-rich, a bit chaotic, always a few annoyances, but you put up with them because you can still get things done, and it’s an open platform which lets you do what you like.

The other is premium-cost, single-vendor, less annoying, and you spend more time getting on with what you want to do and less time fighting the machine.

I don’t intend this as a  complete parallel. There are more than two popular operating systems in the SmartPhone market right now – Symbian, Meego, WebOS, Blackberry; and Microsoft has big hopes for Windows Phone 7. That said, it is hard to see all these platforms thriving long-term.

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.

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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