dw2

15 December 2008

Accelerating out of molasses

Filed under: disruption, modularity, Nokia, time to market — David Wood @ 4:00 pm

Michael Mace has posted a characteristically thoughtful article on his Mobile Opportunity blog:

Every time I think about Nokia and Symbian, I can’t help picturing a man knee-deep in molasses, running as fast as he can. He’s working up a sweat, thrashing and stumbling forward, and proudly points out that for someone knee-deep in molasses he’s making really good time…

The posting is entitled “Nokia: Running in molasses“. It arose from Mike reflecting on some of what he heard at the recent Symbian Partner Event (SPE) in San Francisco. The posting is well worth reading. I appreciate the issues that Mike raises. These issues are significant. But as you might expect, I have a somewhat different perspective on some of them.

Large software doesn’t mean that software development has to go slow

Charles Davies, Symbian CTO, pointed out to us that Symbian OS has about 450,000 source files. That’s right, half a million files. They’re organized into 85 “packages”…

There are economies of scale as well as dis-economies of scale. The point of the careful division of the Symbian Platform software into packages is to enable each of the resulting packages to have greater autonomy – and, therefore, to progress more quickly.

There’s one subtle point here. Many of the packages include teams from both Symbian and from S60. This applies to cases where the separation of functionality between the two formerly distinct companies resulted in sub-optimal development. Now that Nokia’s acquisition of Symbian has completed, these boundaries can be intelligently re-designed.

Disruption, size, and organisational design

This brings me to a comment on the ideas of Clayton Christensen. Here’s another extract from Mike Mace’s article:

If the folks at Nokia really think they are well positioned to crush Apple, they need to go re-read The Innovator’s Dilemma. Being big is not a benefit in a rapidly-changing market with emerging segments.

Agreed, being big is no guarantee of being able to respond well to changing market conditions. That’s why I’m personally a big fan of Agile. Agile can help established companies (whether large or small) to launch and embrace disruptions. As Scott Anthony, one of Christensen’s co-authors, has recently commented in his article “Can Established Companies Disrupt?“:

The data suggests that it is increasingly common for an established company to launch disruptive innovations. More and more incumbents are learning how to embrace disruptive principles such as:

  • Put the customer, and their important, unsatisfied job-to-be-done at the center of the innovation equation
  • Embrace the power of simplicity, convenience, and affordability
  • Create organizational space for disruptive growth businesses
  • Consider innovation levers beyond features and functions
  • Become world class at testing, iterating and adjusting

As I said, being big can have its advantages as well as its disadvantages, so long as individual parts of the company have sufficient autonomy. The hard part is knowing when to seek closer ties, and when to seek looser ties. One of Christensen’s later books had some very interesting advice on that score. I can’t remember for sure whether that book was “The Innovator’s Solution” or “Seeing What’s Next“. The advice was that where performance remains a critical differentiator, you should look for a tight coupling. Where performance is already “good enough”, you should seek a loose coupling – with open APIs and a choice of alternative solutions.

As soon as I read these words, some time around 2003-2004, I had a gut reaction that, one day, the relevant teams in Symbian software engineering and S60 software engineering ought to be combined. It took a long time for that insight to be fulfilled. But now that it’s happening, there’s plenty of good reason to expect the resulting combined company to start accelerating its development.

Development in parallel with change

Back to Mike Mace, commenting on the SPE presentation by Charles Davies:

Davies talked about the substantial challenges involved in open sourcing a code base that large. He said it will take up to another two years before all of the code is released under the Eclipse license. In the meantime, a majority of the code on launch day of the foundation will be in a more restrictive license that requires registration and a payment of $1,500 for access. There’s also a small amount of third party copyrighted code within Symbian, and the foundation is trying to either get the rights to that code, or figure a way to make it available in binary format.

Those are all typical problems when a project is moving to open source, and the upshot of them is that Symbian won’t be able to get the full benefits of its move to open source until quite a while after the foundation is launched. What slows the process down is the amount of code that Symbian and Nokia have to move. I believe that Symbian OS is probably the largest software project ever taken from closed to open source. If you’ve ever dealt with moving code to open source, you’ll know how staggeringly complex the legal reviews are. What Nokia and Symbian are doing is heroic, scary, and incredibly tedious. It’s like, well, running in molasses.

I have four comments on this:

  1. Even though the full transition to open source may take up to two years from the initial announcement of the foundation (that is, until mid 2010), there are plenty of other things happening in the meantime – with a series of interim releases that progressively convert more of the software from the community-source Symbian Foundation Licence to the open-source Ecliplse Public Licence;
  2. There will be new technologies and new UI features in these interim releases;
  3. The interim releases should already achieve at least some of the considerable benefits of both open source and community source; the first packages which will become available under the EPL are being chosen so that independent developers can do useful things with some of them (including contributing back working code enhancements);
  4. The legal reviews may initially seem daunting, but with the help of modern code-scanning tools and with the advantage of “practice makes perfect”, the process is likely to speed up considerably along the way.

Cool stuff in the lab

Mike ends the main part of his article as follows:

Nokia still has a lot of time to get it right. But do they really understand what needs to change? I can’t tell, because all I usually get from them is monologues on how big their business is and how much cool stuff they have in the lab.

I accept that analysts must inevitably hedge their bets, regarding the extent of future success of the main mobile operating systems, until a period of proving over the next 12-24 months has shown what these operating systems can actually accomplish. I eagerly look forward to the day when more of the Symbian and Nokia roadmap of stunning new technology, new services, and new user experience attains greater visibility. When that happens, analysts are likely to come down off the hedge.

My own expectation is that the moves to integrate Symbian and Nokia, and to create the Symbian Foundation, will see a substantial speed up of innovation over that time period. But I’m not taking this for granted. After all, I’m well aware of the original subtitle of “The Innovator’s Dilemma”: “When new technologies cause great firms to fail“.

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10 Comments »

  1. David,

    As a long time user (and until recently, an evangelist) of Nokia products, I have to say Nokia essentially penalizes early adopters. It was this continuous penalization of their most loyal customers that eventually forced me to give up years of Symbian brand loyalty for an iPhone. Not only does Nokia seemingly go out of its way to not provide a consistent experience across its phones (even within the same generations of phones), when they do try to provide updates, they are for a small fraction of any given phone’s user base and requires considerable effort on the user’s part. I understand that Nokia may have a duty to its shareholders to improve profit by selling hardware instead of updating software, but they are not the only fish in the smartphone sea any longer; Apple is providing a credible, mass-market appealing package, RIM has made huge strides in making its products more consumer-oriented, and Android is energizing legions of open source fans. I can do with my launch day original iPhone today everything that I can do with a brand new iPhone 3G; I cannot say the same for any Nokia product, save the Maemo-powered N800.

    You can – and should innovate – as much as you can. But unless those innovations make it back to all users, most of your user base sees your old platform and compares it to the latest from your competitors. When they see that Apple, a company famously disdainful of its own user base, is offering a better upgrade path than Nokia, a supposedly consumer-focused company, then are they more likely to choose a Nokia or an Apple phone as their next phone?

    Cheers.

    Comment by Varun — 15 December 2008 @ 10:25 pm

  2. David,

    As a long time user (and until recently, an evangelist) of Nokia products, I have to say Nokia essentially penalizes early adopters. It was this continuous penalization of their most loyal customers that eventually forced me to give up years of Symbian brand loyalty for an iPhone. Not only does Nokia seemingly go out of its way to not provide a consistent experience across its phones (even within the same generations of phones), when they do try to provide updates, they are for a small fraction of any given phone’s user base and requires considerable effort on the user’s part. I understand that Nokia may have a duty to its shareholders to improve profit by selling hardware instead of updating software, but they are not the only fish in the smartphone sea any longer; Apple is providing a credible, mass-market appealing package, RIM has made huge strides in making its products more consumer-oriented, and Android is energizing legions of open source fans. I can do with my launch day original iPhone today everything that I can do with a brand new iPhone 3G; I cannot say the same for any Nokia product, save the Maemo-powered N800.

    You can – and should innovate – as much as you can. But unless those innovations make it back to all users, most of your user base sees your old platform and compares it to the latest from your competitors. When they see that Apple, a company famously disdainful of its own user base, is offering a better upgrade path than Nokia, a supposedly consumer-focused company, then are they more likely to choose a Nokia or an Apple phone as their next phone?

    Cheers.

    Comment by Varun — 15 December 2008 @ 10:25 pm

  3. Although market competitors such as LG, SE, RIM, Apple, Google Android are posing an increasing threat to Nokia, I personally believe that 1 single right move by Nokia will be enough to simmer down those threats. The way I see it, the Symbian S60 OS is the most substantial & the best candidate for coming close to "the most perfect mobile phone OS". Its capabilities are endless, but what Nokia need to do is to enlighten the general customers on all those capabilities & generate genuine interest among them.
    People fell for the iPhone due to its obvious, graphical & very easy-to-use interface. Nowadays, people want OSs & UIs to be pretty obvious because they, well, just find it tedious figuring stuff out for themselves. Nokia has made a very good move by introducing the S60 5th edition UI, which is a big step forward & with just the right amount of tweaks and improvements to it, it is capable enough of achieving the position of the most perfect mobile OS. Also, the acquisition of Symbian by Nokia leading to the Symbian Foundation opens up whole new possibilities in terms of software diversification. Last, but not least, Nokia, unlike other competitors, has the BEST customer goodwill & dedicatedness. And so, the goal now would be to achieve the perfect OS seamlessly integrated with all Nokia online services & make all of its potential known to the public. This, I believe is the current correct step forward for Nokia & the Symbian Foundation.

    Comment by Nadim Hossain — 16 December 2008 @ 4:42 am

  4. Although market competitors such as LG, SE, RIM, Apple, Google Android are posing an increasing threat to Nokia, I personally believe that 1 single right move by Nokia will be enough to simmer down those threats. The way I see it, the Symbian S60 OS is the most substantial & the best candidate for coming close to "the most perfect mobile phone OS". Its capabilities are endless, but what Nokia need to do is to enlighten the general customers on all those capabilities & generate genuine interest among them.
    People fell for the iPhone due to its obvious, graphical & very easy-to-use interface. Nowadays, people want OSs & UIs to be pretty obvious because they, well, just find it tedious figuring stuff out for themselves. Nokia has made a very good move by introducing the S60 5th edition UI, which is a big step forward & with just the right amount of tweaks and improvements to it, it is capable enough of achieving the position of the most perfect mobile OS. Also, the acquisition of Symbian by Nokia leading to the Symbian Foundation opens up whole new possibilities in terms of software diversification. Last, but not least, Nokia, unlike other competitors, has the BEST customer goodwill & dedicatedness. And so, the goal now would be to achieve the perfect OS seamlessly integrated with all Nokia online services & make all of its potential known to the public. This, I believe is the current correct step forward for Nokia & the Symbian Foundation.

    Comment by Nadim Hossain — 16 December 2008 @ 4:42 am

  5. Dear David,
    I actually think that there’s a underestimated error on top of the Symbian foundation project.

    Nokia inspired this move mainly as a response to market threats like I-phone and Android, – I’m still confident about my views 😉 – but unfortunately I don’t think that SF success can converge with Nokia success.

    At a given time Symbian has become simply too expensive (since there was an emerging and appealing competitor with a “zero royalties” business model) for the OEM/ODM market.

    Furthermore, I’m not sure at all that Symbian as an OS could sustain a strong innovation phase making that suitable for next generation smartphones and Internet connected devices, mainly because has been designed in early 90s and then improved year by year, but still carries some old design concepts.

    I’m quite sure that I’m not the only one in the world thinking like this: otherwise, why symbian stakeholders didn’t supported Nokia in opensourcing the system? Why Nokia needed to acquire all the shares before to do it? In case Symbian would have been judged a good starting point to design the new generation of smartphones most of the former symbian shareholders would have been more interested in the governance and the strategic contribution to SF that, actually, seems now instead only over Nokia (big) shoulders.
    That’s why I say that SF success would not ever necessary be a Nokia success. Now that Nokia acquired completely Symbian, this basically means, small success perspective for SF.

    Now we have, mainly, two competitive OS projects a manufactorers could choice to invest on: one is revolutionary and leaded by a non competitive player like Google, one is more stable, can count on 10 years history and 200M handset base but, unfortunately, is leaded by a competitive player for most of the worldwide manufactorers.

    I’ld be pleased if you’ld take a look at some of my posts on my blog (especially those about mobile industry, http://meedabyte.wordpress.com/category/mobile-industry/)

    All the best.

    Comment by meedabyte — 16 December 2008 @ 11:00 am

  6. Dear David,
    I actually think that there’s a underestimated error on top of the Symbian foundation project.

    Nokia inspired this move mainly as a response to market threats like I-phone and Android, – I’m still confident about my views 😉 – but unfortunately I don’t think that SF success can converge with Nokia success.

    At a given time Symbian has become simply too expensive (since there was an emerging and appealing competitor with a “zero royalties” business model) for the OEM/ODM market.

    Furthermore, I’m not sure at all that Symbian as an OS could sustain a strong innovation phase making that suitable for next generation smartphones and Internet connected devices, mainly because has been designed in early 90s and then improved year by year, but still carries some old design concepts.

    I’m quite sure that I’m not the only one in the world thinking like this: otherwise, why symbian stakeholders didn’t supported Nokia in opensourcing the system? Why Nokia needed to acquire all the shares before to do it? In case Symbian would have been judged a good starting point to design the new generation of smartphones most of the former symbian shareholders would have been more interested in the governance and the strategic contribution to SF that, actually, seems now instead only over Nokia (big) shoulders.
    That’s why I say that SF success would not ever necessary be a Nokia success. Now that Nokia acquired completely Symbian, this basically means, small success perspective for SF.

    Now we have, mainly, two competitive OS projects a manufactorers could choice to invest on: one is revolutionary and leaded by a non competitive player like Google, one is more stable, can count on 10 years history and 200M handset base but, unfortunately, is leaded by a competitive player for most of the worldwide manufactorers.

    I’ld be pleased if you’ld take a look at some of my posts on my blog (especially those about mobile industry, http://meedabyte.wordpress.com/category/mobile-industry/)

    All the best.

    Comment by meedabyte — 16 December 2008 @ 11:00 am

  7. 7 Tips:

    1. N97 – FIX THE KEYBOARD BEFORE YOU RELEASE IT – sorry for shouting but I'm surprised no-one's pointed this out yet. The number keys MUST be in a keypad arrangment or you'll get slammed for it. Check details of the original side slider (HTC Wizard) and you'll see that they had to move the numbers from the top row to a keypad arrangement very soon after it's initial release – yes, I bought it too early.

    Phew, now that I've got that off my chest, onto Nokia:

    2. Open sourcing Symbian is fine. If that's what you want to do then go ahead. As a developer I don't really care. Make it easier to develop applications and support us with an App Store (Download hasn't got the organisation or the library of apps to compete) and I'm on your side! My company recently decided not to do an S60 application until we'd written it for Windows Mobile first – because of the time to market, and the difficult learning curve for S60.

    3. Varun is right that it is getting very tiring being an early adopter but I do understand that you'll never find those bugs unless you release the device sometimes. The fix for this is to follow up a device release with lots of quick fixes. Don't let the operators stop you releasing updates – I recently returned an E71 to Vodafone because I know they won't be making the recent firmware update available on Vodafone E71s anytime soon. WM devices also have lots of initial bugs, that's why I moved to a Nokia.

    4. One of Nokia's strengths was in releasing multiple styles of the same basic device. This has slowed in recent years, especially with S60 devices. It also managed to create at least one device of each form factor. So why has it taken you so long to release a side-slider? Big screens and keyboards are important on smartphones.

    5. Why the artificial differences between N and E series devices? I want an N series phone that allows me to pick the home-screen plugins. Why is that feature only on E series phones? What I really mean is, you need to combine code and ideas between teams.

    6. S60 has A LOT more features than the iPhone, why not market S60 devices as a whole, highlighting certain features: Text to Speech, Speech Rec, Bluetooth Headphones, inter-device communication using Bluetooth. Maybe an Apple-esq ad on YouTube showing how easy it is to Cut & Paste on a Nokia! A parody.

    7. Put S60 5th Edition on the N800 and make it work. Then you'll have a muture version for release. Until then I think even the N97 is going to be 'unfinished'.

    I just hope these comments don't fall on deaf ears.

    Comment by Ahmed — 17 December 2008 @ 11:33 pm

  8. 7 Tips:

    1. N97 – FIX THE KEYBOARD BEFORE YOU RELEASE IT – sorry for shouting but I'm surprised no-one's pointed this out yet. The number keys MUST be in a keypad arrangment or you'll get slammed for it. Check details of the original side slider (HTC Wizard) and you'll see that they had to move the numbers from the top row to a keypad arrangement very soon after it's initial release – yes, I bought it too early.

    Phew, now that I've got that off my chest, onto Nokia:

    2. Open sourcing Symbian is fine. If that's what you want to do then go ahead. As a developer I don't really care. Make it easier to develop applications and support us with an App Store (Download hasn't got the organisation or the library of apps to compete) and I'm on your side! My company recently decided not to do an S60 application until we'd written it for Windows Mobile first – because of the time to market, and the difficult learning curve for S60.

    3. Varun is right that it is getting very tiring being an early adopter but I do understand that you'll never find those bugs unless you release the device sometimes. The fix for this is to follow up a device release with lots of quick fixes. Don't let the operators stop you releasing updates – I recently returned an E71 to Vodafone because I know they won't be making the recent firmware update available on Vodafone E71s anytime soon. WM devices also have lots of initial bugs, that's why I moved to a Nokia.

    4. One of Nokia's strengths was in releasing multiple styles of the same basic device. This has slowed in recent years, especially with S60 devices. It also managed to create at least one device of each form factor. So why has it taken you so long to release a side-slider? Big screens and keyboards are important on smartphones.

    5. Why the artificial differences between N and E series devices? I want an N series phone that allows me to pick the home-screen plugins. Why is that feature only on E series phones? What I really mean is, you need to combine code and ideas between teams.

    6. S60 has A LOT more features than the iPhone, why not market S60 devices as a whole, highlighting certain features: Text to Speech, Speech Rec, Bluetooth Headphones, inter-device communication using Bluetooth. Maybe an Apple-esq ad on YouTube showing how easy it is to Cut & Paste on a Nokia! A parody.

    7. Put S60 5th Edition on the N800 and make it work. Then you'll have a muture version for release. Until then I think even the N97 is going to be 'unfinished'.

    I just hope these comments don't fall on deaf ears.

    Comment by Ahmed — 17 December 2008 @ 11:33 pm

  9. Hi Ahmed,

    >“I just hope these comments don’t fall on deaf ears.”

    There’s no deaf ears here – there’s a lot of gold dust inside all the feedback and suggestions from users in these comments.

    I’m not able to give quick replies to all the points raised, but please be assured that these points are receiving careful thought.

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 18 December 2008 @ 8:35 am

  10. Hi Ahmed,

    >“I just hope these comments don’t fall on deaf ears.”

    There’s no deaf ears here – there’s a lot of gold dust inside all the feedback and suggestions from users in these comments.

    I’m not able to give quick replies to all the points raised, but please be assured that these points are receiving careful thought.

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 18 December 2008 @ 8:35 am


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