dw2

19 August 2008

Nokia and the valley iPhone super-fans

Filed under: iPhone, Nokia — David Wood @ 9:47 pm

“Nokia’s Software Problem”, proclaimed an article in Forbes yesterday, that gave voice to excited Silicon Valley adulation over the can’t-do-anything-wrong iPhone.

The article contained a report on a recent roundtable organised by Michael Arrington. Arrington himself is quoted in the article as pronouncing,

“I believe that Nokia and Symbian are irrelevant companies at this point.”

Part of the problem, apparently, is that:

“Nokia sells hundreds of phone models and supports three different operating systems. No two phones work exactly the same way. Simple models like Nokia’s 2610 aren’t compatible with the Symbian software used on Nokia’s best handsets, such as the N95. Applications written for the iPhone, by contrast, will run on every iPhone.”

Now there’s such a thing as being a fan of the iPhone. That’s understandable. Indeed, there are many great features to the iPhone. It’s proved to be an impressive device. What’s much less understandable is when this fanship extends into super-fanship of the type reported in this article, which makes people blind to:

  • the genuine merits of devices from other manufacturers (such as Nokia);
  • the likelihood that these manufacturers will come out with impressive new devices.

(I almost used a less polite word than “super-fanship” here, but hey, let’s try to be objective.)

Let’s get real. Of course there are big differences between different Nokia phones. Nokia supplies phones catering to very wide varieties of taste, usage model, and pocket. It’s no surprise that different software is used to power these different devices. In contrast, up till now, there’s really only one kind of iPhone. That makes it relatively easy for developers to write apps that work on (err) every kind of iPhone. However, the current iPhone isn’t to everyone’s taste. Some people love the big screen form factor, and are happy that there’s no keyboard. Others would definitely prefer different form factors and UI mechanisms. Others again would prefer a far less expensive phone. If/when Apple produce a variety of phones comparable to that produced by Nokia, it will be interesting to see exactly how portable the different applications remain.

I have another reservation about the arguments in the Forbes article. The email capabilities of the N95 are criticised as being less immediately usable than those of the iPhone. However, a fairer comparison in this case would be with those Nokia phones that specialise in email connectivity. (Remember, there is more than one kind of Nokia phone…). The recently released E66 and E71 would be better comparators. (See eg here for one review of the E71.)

It’s true that we can anticipate very interesting times, as forthcoming new Nokia phones reach the market in the months ahead. Naturally there will be impressive new smartphones from several other suppliers too (running both Symbian and non-Symbian operating systems). We can expect new kinds of user interface models, as different manufacturers build and riff on the innovations produced by their competitors – and bring out some totally new ideas of their own. In achieving these new effects, Symbian-powered phones can take advantage of the following features that are missing (so far) from the iPhone stable: Flash, Java, and the new ScreenPlay graphics architecture.

Looking slightly further afield, the new levels of openness enabled by the Symbian Foundation should have the additional benefits of providing new routes to market for Symbian technology, as well as more rapid collaborative development. If that’s a “software problem”, it’s a problem of the most attractive sort!

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21 Comments »

  1. Call me an iPhone “super-fan” too, but I’m not from the valley. I’m from Austria in good old Europe.

    Sorry that I don’t buy your argumentation. If Nokia is so super-dooper, why not ship one super-device like the iPhone? No one’s asking for support over every thinkable phone and form factor. We as developers want one consistent platform that enables us to write great software in a reasonable amount of time.

    For that matter, I’ve developed on J2ME, Windows Mobile and Symbian. Compare that to the iPhone SDK bundled with the beautiful App Store and I’m sorry for you Mr. Symbian:
    Yes, for me as a developer Nokia and Symbian are indeed irrelevant at this point!

    That doesn’t meen that you cannot improve. Actually I would be the first one to jump on Symbian, if you offer something compareable (maybe even better) than the iPhone ecosystem does today.

    In the meantime it’s those iPhone super-fans,that are paying my bills…

    Comment by Alexander Marktl — 20 August 2008 @ 6:53 am

  2. I think it’s naive to swish aside Nokia and Symbian as irrelevant. Nokia (just as palm before them) have floundered a very lucrative opportunity, and although we can rule Palm out of the picture Nokia has the potential to make a comeback.

    Developers are core the app strategy and you can’t brush them aside, you have to address their concerns and do it pronto.

    Till that time, say hello to iPhone.

    Comment by sachendra — 20 August 2008 @ 12:32 pm

  3. Hi Alexander,

    >"In the meantime it's those iPhone super-fans,that are paying my bills…"

    Does that mean you’re already getting enough income from AppStore purchases to cover all your costs of development?

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 20 August 2008 @ 1:16 pm

  4. Those comments by Michael Arrington may hold true for the U.S. where Symbian is indeed irrelevant.

    For the rest of the world those comments would be complete nonsense.

    According to Canalys, Symbian has a market share of 67% and Apple 7%.

    And praising the “compatiblity” of the iPhone can backfire on you pretty quickly. Just have a closer look at the Apple iPod biosphere: on some you can install games, most have different connectors, …

    It’s just so weird to expect Nokia to produce only one model: do you want Ford to produce only one car? Then what? A pickup? A station wagon? No, the Mustang?

    Hey, I bet Dell could save millions when scaling down their offering to only one PC model? Hm …

    As a developer (Symbian since 2002), I was really looking forward to the iPhone last year.

    But with such a crippled platform (no background processes, no tethering) and the mandatory App Store distribution, it’s looking a lot less shiny than I hoped.

    The App Store is actually a nice idea and Apple’s share seems to be fair, too. However, with reports of Apple removing apps deliberatly, I’d wish there was at least one other place to sell your apps to introduce some sort of competition ( or fairness .)

    The iPhone market seems a bit like what UIQ2 once was like (Sony Ericsson P800, …): a niche market compared to Series 60, but a *lot* more sales for various reasons.

    Comment by Jan Ole Suhr — 20 August 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  5. I agree that the question is not “whether Nokia produces hudred of phone models and one iPhone”. The problem is binary break between each phone model. If Nokia and Symbian can work on binary compatibility, it will make our life easier. Not only for developers, but also for end-users.

    We should learn from PC industry. I have seen DOS applications written 15 – 20 years ago are still running on Windows XP. The hardware has changed a lot in the last 15 years or so; the software has evolved as well.

    Right now, applications written for Symbian OS 8.x will not run at all on Symbian OS 9.x. What makes more confusion is the numbering on Nokia’s devices. How can people tell that Nokia N90 is based on Symbian OS 8 and Nokia N91 is based on Symbian OS 9?

    Comment by Antony Pranata — 20 August 2008 @ 6:26 pm

  6. Forbes’s article inspired me, too, thus I wrote my own post on it. I stumbled upon this article just today, but I’m not surprised at all that David shares the same opinion. Or rather vice versa. 🙂

    Comment by Gábor Török — 21 August 2008 @ 8:27 am

  7. Hi Antony,

    >"The problem is binary break between each phone model."

    I see that as too harsh. Yes, we had a binary break – a big binary break, between v8.x and v9.x. Yes, that caused a lot of grief to developers. We knew there would be significant drawbacks to this break, so we did not take the decision lightly.

    But since then, through all subsequent releases (9.0 up to 9.6 and still counting) we’ve kept binary compatibility, with only very minor breaks.

    >"If Nokia and Symbian can work on binary compatibility, it will make our life easier. Not only for developers, but also for end-users.

    Agreed. That’s why we’ve focused hard, ever since v9.0, on maintaining binary compatibility. We have lots of internal systems to help us do this. And as time goes on, the reality is that the vast majority of Symbian phones in circulation will be based on v9.x.

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 21 August 2008 @ 9:04 pm

  8. To Antony,

    You have an excellent point. The reason that Microsoft (and don’t forget Intel) triumphed over competition that had at one point or other better technology (remember Intel’s segmented memory architecture? Yuk!) is because of their sheer commitment for backward compatibility: in many ways, probably the best achievement of both the companies. I suggest you subscribe to Raymond Chen’s blog Old New Thing at blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing for an insight into how Microsoft has managed to pull it off over the years

    To David,

    Keeping the BC promise just from Symbian isn’t good enough. For whatever reason (both good and bad), S60 (and UIQ, sometimes) provides wrapper and enhancement over many Symbian APIs and unfortunately, BC commitment on those APIs aren’t always as good as Symbian’s. As a result, you do end up with subtle differences between devices that only result in more frustration on part of the application developer.

    I think it’s high time that the legacy approach to Symbian OS application development dumped or at least deprecated and replaced with a modern development platform. With QT coming into the picture, that will hopefully be a reality soon. Obviously, runtimes for late bound languages like Python and Ruby already provide a viable option for Symbian OS development, but it remains to be seen if they are up to the task for commercial application development and not just student/hobbyist type projects.

    Comment by tanzim — 21 August 2008 @ 11:34 pm

  9. [quote]blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing for an insight into how Microsoft has managed to pull it off over the years
    [/quote]

    I say Nokia’s been pulling it off rather nicely, even with the binary break, how much was the apple market share again? lol

    Calling the market leader with 67% marketshare ‘irrelavant’ when you own just 7% is nothing but fanboism and in apple’s case macboism. America’s mobile phone market is anyways prehistoric, shackled by the evil strategies of network operators. No wonder they call the iphone ‘hitech’

    Comment by Hardeep Singh — 23 August 2008 @ 5:17 am

  10. I doubt that it is possible to have 3 different symbian that can be compatible with each other

    I mean look at a basic model like nokia 3600 or nokia 2600 compared to Nokia N82 and N95 8GB

    Why should a $100 phone have the same functionality and OS as the $1000 one?

    Some people don’t require functionality like GPS or 3G etc.

    It doesn’t make sense to have an operating system that is compatible with each other

    You don’t see much windows Xp application working with windows 98se.

    Windows operating system is different to mobile operating system because unlike PC you are able to avoid some features and functionality while in Windows you can’t so it is not right to compare DOS and Windows.

    You get people that requires a PC for documents only but you can’t avoid buying a pc system that is capable of doing much more

    Comment by Ronald — 23 August 2008 @ 6:45 am

  11. bu then, if you wanted a full binary compatibility then you wouldn't want the the situation like winxp -> winvista where nothing much changed, just cosmetics….

    i am all the way with nokia, if there are imoprovements in performance and stability then binary breaks are inevitable…

    Comment by Jananan — 23 August 2008 @ 8:51 am

  12. The iPhone brings nothing new to the market, except multi touch of course; actually; if it brings anything new, it’s the look, and honestly, slim and sleek design has been seen before, and it will be done again, Prada is nice example and it going to be even better and better equipped phone with more features.

    In a matter of fact, we all know that iPhone is nothing but the crap, but general public won’t know that and most of them won’t even realize that when they actually buy one. iPhone is nothing but the it’s a piece of *hit with nice screen over it and extremely good marketing behind.

    Comment by Apocalypso — 23 August 2008 @ 9:56 am

  13. I’m a long time Nokia user, all I know is they seem to always have some big nusiance.

    Be it battery life in their flagships or some almost perfect business app.

    Latest one being, the Nokia Mobile VPN client only supports IPSEC based VPN services which are the hardest to implement and least used.

    In the Nokia E71 for eg, it’s got a business app they could’ve had Nokia Mobile versions that supported PPTP, OpenSSL (OpenVPN).
    You can’t expect people to change their VPN providers for some dumb mobile app.

    In a nutshell, Nokia please support what’s popular and widely used. Please don’t impose your standards on people.

    Comment by Z-man — 23 August 2008 @ 10:45 am

  14. Its impossible to have symbian versions compatible with each other

    The cheaper models uses different hardware,processor and ram than the newer model

    Its like asking microsoft to develop windows xp or vista on a Pentium 1 computer.

    It won’t work!!

    It’s impossible!

    Comment by Ronald — 23 August 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  15. Apple has a very aggressive marketing:
    http://www.areamobile.de/news/9736.html
    What will be the next step?

    Comment by DR. Mobile — 25 August 2008 @ 3:51 pm

  16. @ tanzim,

    >Keeping the BC promise just from Symbian isn’t good enough. For whatever reason (both good and bad), S60 (and UIQ, sometimes) provides wrapper and enhancement over many Symbian APIs and unfortunately, BC commitment on those APIs aren’t always as good as Symbian’s. As a result, you do end up with subtle differences between devices that only result in more frustration on part of the application developer.

    Agreed. My view is that the special skills in BC management which evolved and matured at the Symbian OS level are well in progress in migrating up to the S60 level too.

    >I think it’s high time that the legacy approach to Symbian OS application development dumped or at least deprecated and replaced with a modern development platform. With QT coming into the picture, that will hopefully be a reality soon. Obviously, runtimes for late bound languages like Python and Ruby already provide a viable option for Symbian OS development, but it remains to be seen if they are up to the task for commercial application development and not just student/hobbyist type projects.

    I expect some fascinating discussion on precisely these points (including both pros and cons) to take place at the Smartphone Show. See in particular the day two (22 Oct) keynote by Benoit Schillings, Trolltech CTO, “Symbian and Qt – the best of both worlds“, and the panel session that follows immediately afterwards, “Who will win the runtime race“.

    @ Ronald,

    >I doubt that it is possible to have 3 different symbian that can be compatible with each other. I mean look at a basic model like nokia 3600 or nokia 2600 compared to Nokia N82 and N95 8GB. Why should a $100 phone have the same functionality and OS as the $1000 one? Some people don't require functionality like GPS or 3G etc.

    This is a topic for another day, but actually I do think that, in due course, Symbian OS will be deployed across a significantly wider range of devices than is the case today. There can be benefits to adopting a single software system so widely. Some of Symbian’s Japanese licensees have already shown this.

    @ Z-man

    >I'm a long time Nokia user, all I know is they seem to always have some big nusiance. Be it battery life in their flagships or some almost perfect business app. Latest one being, the Nokia Mobile VPN client only supports IPSEC based VPN services which are the hardest to implement and least used. In the Nokia E71 for eg, it's got a business app they could've had Nokia Mobile versions that supported PPTP, OpenSSL (OpenVPN). You can't expect people to change their VPN providers for some dumb mobile app. In a nutshell, Nokia please support what's popular and widely used. Please don't impose your standards on people.

    I know there were some queries about battery life with the initial batches of N95, but I thought that later versions resolved these issues.

    Regarding the standards supported by the E71, I don’t have any detailed personal knowledge of that phone yet, since I’m still waiting for support for BlackBerry Connect to become available for it, before I retire my somewhat aging E61i and make the jump to the E71. Hopefully if support for some particular middleware protocols is missing, it should be possible for third parties to rectify this, taking advantage of the openness of the phone.

    @ DR.Mobile

    >Apple has a very aggressive marketing

    I agree with those who say that the best (and most important) marketing tools are working phones and working applications and services. That’s where the bulk of resources should be spent.

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 25 August 2008 @ 6:14 pm

  17. User experience trumps technology… and that’s something that Apple keeps proving again and again.

    Nokia is coming out with their own “apple killer” by the end of the year, but at the end of the day they need to create an experience that is fun, simple, and powerful… and recognize that it’s no longer about the hardware… it’s about software. Or the platform.

    I just upgraded my iphone to 2.02 and now enjoy nearly all the benfits of the 3g phone without having to buy a new phone.

    The future of phones is software… eventually it won’t matter what device you buy – just what platform you run.

    Sounds like Mac vs. Pc all over again… except it’s Nokia vs. Google vs. Apple

    I’ve sounded off a bit on that in the past at http://www.burningthebacon.com

    Comment by Phil Barrett — 26 August 2008 @ 12:35 pm

  18. And TechCrunch’s Anti-Symbian/Nokia “crusade” continuous with another fundamentally flawed article. One would expect that a blog as well-known and respected in the Blogosphere could at least get basic facts/figures right, but apparently that’s too much too ask.
    For example: “That may seem high, but over the past six months, 159 different Symbian OS-based mobile devices hit store shelves, compared to just a handful from RIM and one from Apple.” – a 10 second search would have shown that that is just wrong.

    Nevermind that weird graph…

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/09/03/can-the-iphone-beat-symbian-os/

    Comment by Christian — 3 September 2008 @ 10:07 pm

  19. Thanks for the pointer, Christian.

    I’ve returned to this topic in my latest posting, this morning.

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 4 September 2008 @ 9:55 am

  20. Hi David,
    first of all let me admit my allegation: I work for a company connect to Nokia, but I speak just for myself.

    I think there is so much more Nokia / Symbian could do, to put up a better fight against Apple.

    As Anthony rightly said, there is no clear naming convention. Some symbian phones are in the old four digit format, and 2nd and 3rd edition symbian phones are not easily distinguished. No clear cut between smartphones and simple phones. Confusion is for sure frustrating!
    Why not having a clear page at Nokia or Symbian with CPU, speed, OS (major and minor)? If these are mobile computers, shouldn’t user be able to get technical infos about them as easily as they do when shopping on dell.com?
    How can any non-passionate end-user distinguish between Nokia 5320 XpressMusic and the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic?

    There is no marketing emphasis similar to Apple. Can anyone point me to Nokia ads as cool as iPhone ones?

    Lots of basic ideas are just missing. Isn’t it obvious that my access point would be (in order):
    1 “WLANhome”
    2 “WLANwork”
    3 “WLANfavouritebar”
    4 “GPRS/UMTS”
    5 “ask if none is available”

    how about the download application? is that the competitor to apple store? why there is no simple “most downloaded” and “best graded” software?
    There is a useful list of free downloads at s60.com. Why is it not available directly on the download application?

    how about youtube videos? They run, but no video is really fluid on my E66. Is it really good to have videos available if the experience is so frustrating?

    why crucial applications like the web browser cannot be updated? I was totally satisfied with my old N80, but its browser couldn’t save passwords, even if the latest browser can, and it would be compatible with the N80 OS (3rd ed).

    how about OS updates? The Nokia internet tablet crew made a great job at making available latest OS release even to older HW, even with an unsupported hacked version (Internet Tablet OS 2007 Hacker Edition), while Symbian claims symbian is tightly integrated with hardware (http://blogs.s60.com/2006/11/can_i_upgrade_my_nokia_exxnxx) and thus cannot release new Feature Packs for older phones.
    Now, if I compare details of E66 (http://www.forum.nokia.com/devices/E66) and N79 (http://www.forum.nokia.com/devices/N79) they seem to me identyical HW platforms (same ARM 11 369MHz).
    As far as I know, Apple releases major updates to sold devices.

    I can’t comment on development here, since I never wrote code for mobiles.

    All I’m saying is it makes me sad to see such a better product (Symbian IMHO is better, letting you run processes in the background, not choosing what you can or cannot run on your phone, chance to shoot videos, and tons of other things) tagging behind in some customers’ eyes just because nobody gave it a last polishing before putting it on the shelves.

    There are tons of such examples, and these are just few that came to my mind quickly.
    It seems a big waste to me.

    alfonso

    Comment by alfonso — 23 December 2008 @ 12:24 am

  21. Hi Alfonso,

    >"I think there is so much more Nokia / Symbian could do, to put up a better fight against Apple…

    >"All I'm saying is it makes me sad to see such a better product (Symbian IMHO is better, letting you run processes in the background, not choosing what you can or cannot run on your phone, chance to shoot videos, and tons of other things) tagging behind in some customers' eyes just because nobody gave it a last polishing before putting it on the shelves.

    >"There are tons of such examples, and these are just few that came to my mind quickly.
    It seems a big waste to me."

    Many thanks for taking the time to write down so many suggestions and ideas.

    There are already some projects underway that should accomplish some of your suggestions. When the time is right, there will be more news about these projects.

    Some of your other ideas don’t yet have any projects underway (that I know about) inside Nokia or Symbian to achieve them. I’m sure that various people in Nokia and/or Symbian will, however, give them careful thought!

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 23 December 2008 @ 8:44 pm


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