9 February 2009

Preparing for Barcelona

Filed under: challenge, collaboration, Open Source, party — David Wood @ 11:22 pm

What’s the issue that deserves the fullest attention of the best minds of the mobile industry representatives who will be gathering next week at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona?

That was one of the questions that I got asked in a quick-fire practice session last week, by a journalist who was employed for the morning to take part in a “media training session” for people from the Symbian Foundation launch team. The idea of the session was to bombard participants with potentially awkward questions, so we could test out various ways to respond. The questions ranged from tame to taxing, from straightforward to subtle, and from respectful to riotous.

One possible answer to the question at the top of this posting is that it is the issue of user experience which deserves the fullest attention. If users continue to be confronted by inflexible technology with unfriendly interfaces, they won’t get drawn in to make fullest use of mobile devices and services.

Another possible answer is that it is the issue of complexity which deserves the fullest attention. In this line of thinking, overly complex UIs are just one facet of the problem of overly complex mobile technology. Other facets include:

  • Overly difficult development cycles (resulting in products coming late to the market, and/or products released with too many defects), and
  • Overly exercised CPU cores and overly bloated software (resulting in products with poor battery life and high cost).

However, on reflection, I offer instead the following answer: it is the issue of collaboration which deserves the fullest attention. We need to find better ways for all the good resources of the mobile industry to be productively aligned addressing the same key risks and opportunities, rather than our good intentions ending up pulling in different directions. The problems that we collectively face (including the problems of poor user experience and overly complex software) are surely capable of resolution, if only we can find the way to work together on solutions, rather than our different approaches ending up contradiciting each other and confusing matters.

Open source, whereby people can look at source code and propose changes without having to gain special permission in advance, is part of the solution to improving collaboration. Open discussion and open governance take the solution further. Yet another step comes from collaboration tools that provide first-rate source configuration management and issue tracking.

But collaboration often needs clear leadership to make it a reality: a sufficiently compelling starting point on which further collaboration can take place. Without such a starting point, none of the other items I mentioned can hope to make a lasting difference.

That brings me back to the role of the Symbian Foundation. The Symbian Foundation is offering the entire mobile industry what it claims to be the best possible starting point for further collaboration:

  • A tried and tested codebase of 40 million lines of code;
  • Processes and disciplines that cope with pressures from multiple divergent stakeholders;
  • A visionary roadmap that is informed by the thinking of existing mobile leaders, and which spells out the likely evolution of key mobile technologies.

The Symbian Foundation will be holding a welcome party on Monday evening at Barcelona (8pm-11pm, 16th February). I’ve been allocated a small number of tickets to this party, to pass to selected bloggers, analysts, and other deep thinkers of the mobile industry. If you’d like to join this party to discuss the points I’ve made in this posting (or any of the other issues relevant to the formation of the Symbian Foundation), I set you this challenge. Please drop me an email, and provide a link to some of your online writings on applicable topics. (By the way, you don’t need to agree with my viewpoint. You just need to demonstrate that you’re going to enter into an open-minded, friendly, and constructive debate!)

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