Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Symbian, MeeGo, Nokia and prospective developers

There's a lot of misinformation regarding the announcement that Nokia is moving to MeeGo for N-series phones. A lot of rumours, leaked prototypes and some panic amongst developers.

It certainly seems that this prototype E series currently called E7-00 is a spiritual successor to the N97 from the pictures. I would presume that the N8 and this phone were conceived long before the decision to move to MeeGo for N series. The re-badging of the N to E and/or X or even C series is just that, badge engineering. It will be the next crop of phones that really show any sign of dramatic changes. From right here right now, it looks like new E-series encompasses all existing E-series style and traditional N-series, whilst the N-series moves upmarket to a sector of UMPC (ultra mobile pcs) converged with smartphones.

UMPCs aren't new. There have been a few devices just before the N900 that have just missed the mark due to poor performance and the technology simply not being mature enough. The (now bankrupt) OQO Model 1 and Model 2 range was ahead of it's time in concept but lacked the ability to do phone functions, was pricey and had battery & reliability issues. But that seems to be the vacant market niche where N-series with MeeGo is headed. It's just not clear how much of the current E-series will be MeeGo. If I was a developer on Symbian I would port to it. Also it's an open Linux platform and it may open up new market opportunities beyond phones. Or perhaps even beyond just Nokia.

Back to the present, certainly Nokia has acquired a reputation for having dropped the ball and let Apple and HTC streak ahead. Apple partially by marketing, partially by fresh GUI design. HTC from pure technical ability. Nokia have done a lot of good things lately but they simply aren't shouting loud enough. The free for life OVI mapping alone should be dripping off billboards and blaring from FM and TV adverts. But it just isn't. Nokia also simply haven't made the phones a fashion accessory in the way that Apple have. Nokia are still seen as functional whereas the iPhone is seen as an object of desire. The iPhone may be flawed but it isn't stopping sales. Even the reception issue on iPhone 4 isn't preventing it selling out. No other phone has that same level of hysteria with the general public. And general public isn't tech enthusiasts, it isn't bloggers. They're ordinary people who want a simple self explanatory interface. Big buttons!

What also strikes me as insane is the cost of having multiple operating systems. If you look at a different industry - take airlines for example. They will generally try and only use (so far as possible) one aircraft brand with one engine brand (RollsRoyce or GE/CFM) etc as it simplifies training costs, maintenance costs, interoperability. Aer Lingus uses Airbus with CFM, Brititsh Airways uses Boeing etc. Another parallel would be engine and platform sharing in the car industry.

So  Nokia have to maintain S40, S60, MeeGo. Sony Ericsson have S60, Windows Mobile, Android. Samsung seem the worst as they have S60, Bada, LiMO and Android. Even HTC have this problem to contend with as they have Windows Mobile, Android etc. Many of the aforementioned have other their own propriety systems too. But Apple have one phone operating system. Yes they're only in the higher end smartphone market now but I'll bet lesser devices when they appear will use the same iOS operating system. That's just one to maintain and develop. That's going to have some cost and profitability implications. And for a prospective developer wondering what systems they will develop and test for, it's going to have a big impact on their decision too.