22 October 2008

Winners of Symbian student essay contest

Filed under: Essay contest, Smartphone Show, universities — David Wood @ 6:25 am

At the Smartphone Show yesterday, Symbian announced the results of our first Student Essay Contest, and called for entrants to a new contest – with an entry submission deadline of 31st January 2009.

The theme for the 2008 contest was “The next wave of smartphone innovation“. The prize winners are as follows (listed in alphabetical order of surname):

  • Benoît Delville, Ecole Centrale de Lille, France: The hardware tech of smartphones. Benoît’s essay examines four factors which threaten to prevent the fuller adoption of smartphones.
  • Alexander Erifiu, University of Applied Sciences, Hagenberg, Austria: New interaction concepts in mobile games. Alexander’s essay describes a project the author carried out with some colleagues to increase the suitability of smartphones for certain types of games.
  • Andreas Jakl, Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria: Optical translator: word spotting and tracking on smartphones. Andreas’s essay considers some developments that will enable advanced new applications that take advantage of the high quality camera technology that is currently widely available on smartphones.
  • Florian Lettner, University of Applied Sciences, Hagenberg, Austria: Smartphones in home automation. Florian’s essay investigates the possible use of smartphones in a number of practical situations, including several in the home.
  • Pankaj Nathani, Bhavnagar University, Gujarat, India: Improved development and delivery methodologies. Pankaj’s essay focuses on the fact that developers can face many challenges in developing and delivering novel or evolved services on smartphones.
  • Milen Nikolov, The College at Brockport, State University of New York, Brockport, USA: Exploiting social and mobile ad hoc networking to achieve ubiquitous connectivity. Milen’s essay examines a particular example of what is known as a ‘Mobile Ad hoc Network’ (MANET) involving smartphones.
  • Aleksandra Reiss, Petrozavodsk State University, Russia: The next waves of smartphone innovation. Aleksandra’s essay is targeted at discovering what new functionality can be added to smartphones in the near future.
  • Sudeep Sundaram, University of Bristol, UK: Situation aware maintenance mate. Sudeep’s essay reviews possible uses of a smartphone in coordination with a head mounted display, where for example, a user could see the positioning of electrical wires in a wall and carry out diagnostics.
  • Iftekhar Ul Karim, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh: Opportunities with smartphone technologies for the base of the pyramid. Iftekhar’s essay challenges readers to consider novel uses of smartphones for users in the so-called ‘base of the pyramid’ – the four billion poorest people on the planet.
  • Alejandro Vicente-Grabovetsky, University of Cambridge, UK: The smartphone of the future: A powerhouse or a mere terminal? Alejandro’s essay explores the potential for the smartphone to act as a ‘social computer’ as opposed to merely copying features from the ‘personal computer’.

My congratulations to the prizewinners! There are thought-provoking elements in all of the winning essays. For extracts and summaries, see developer.symbian.com/essays.

The contest received many other essays that also contained interesting and valuable observations. My recommendations to entrants of future contests is that that essays are more likely to be awarded prizes if they:

  • Concentrate on making a small number of points well, rather than on trying to cover a large number of different points;
  • Address specific issues, rather than describing abstract theories;
  • Have a clear structure and a logical flow of argument;
  • Back up their claims by providing evidence (for example, references).

My goal for the 2008 contest were threefold:

  1. To encourage university students to carry out research on topics of interest to Symbian, its wider community and the mobile industry;
  2. To find out where the most interesting research was being carried out;
  3. To stimulate interest in Symbian’s emerging University Research Relations programme.

Following the success of our 2008 contest, we’re repeating it in 2009. The deadline for submission for the next Symbian Student Essay Contest is 31st January 2009. The overall theme for this new contest is “Architectures to enable breakthroughs for mobile converged devices.” Students are encouraged to address one or more of the following topics in their essays:

  1. Software development that takes best advantage of multiple processor cores
  2. Allocation of responsibilities between managed code and native code
  3. Delivering maximum power from the hardware and the networks to applications
  4. Security and privacy concerns in mobile device architectures
  5. Taming the complexity of mobile system architecture: the role of open source
  6. Enabling devices, applications and services that appeal to huge new groups of users
  7. The role of system architecture in significantly improving consumer experience.

Winners of the 2009 contest will receive £1,000 with runners up earning special commendations. For the rules of this contest, see www.symbian.com/universities.

21 October 2008

Open Source: necessary but not sufficient

Filed under: Open Innovation, Open Source, Smartphone Show — David Wood @ 5:57 am

Building the software system for complex smartphone products is one of the toughest engineering challenges on the planet. The amount of software in a high-end phone has been roughly doubling, each year, for the last ten years. In order to reap market success, smartphone software has to meet demanding requirements for performance, reliability, and usability. What’s more, to avoid missing a fast-moving market window, the software needs to pass through its integration process and reach maturity in a matter of months (not years). As I said, it’s a truly tough problem.

[Author’s note: a version of this article is appearing in print today, to mark the first day of the Symbian Smartphone Show. I thought that people might like to read it online too.]

In broad terms, there are two ways in which a company can seek to solve this kind of tough problem:

  1. Seek to keep careful control of the problem, and rely primarily on resources that are under the tight direction and supervision of the company;
  2. Seek to take advantage of resources that are outside the control of the company.

The attraction of the first approach is that it’s easier to manage. The attraction of the second approach is that, in principle, the company can take better advantage of the potential innovation created by users and developers that are outside the company.

Writers and academics who study how innovation works in industry sometimes use the terms “closed innovation” and “open innovation” to describe these two approaches. In his pioneering book “Open innovation, the new imperative for creating and profiting from technology”, Henry Chesbrough lists the following contrasts between open innovation and closed innovation:

The “closed innovation” mindset:

  1. The smart people in our field work for us
  2. To profit from R&D we must discover it, develop it, and ship it ourselves
  3. If we discover it ourselves, we will get to the market first
  4. The company that gets an innovation to market first will win
  5. If we create the most and the best ideas in the industry, we will win
  6. We should control our IP, so that our competitors don’t profit from our ideas.

The “open innovation” mindset:

  1. Not all the smart people work for us. We need to work with smart people inside and outside our company
  2. External R&D can create significant value; internal R&D is needed to claim some portion of that value
  3. We don’t have to originate the research to profit from it
  4. Building a better business model is better than getting to market first
  5. If we make the best use of internal and external ideas, we will win
  6. We should profit from others’ use of our IP, and we should buy others’ IP whenever it advances our own business model.

In the modern world of hyper-complex products, easy communication via the Internet and other network systems, and the “Web 2.0” pro-collaboration zeitgeist, it is easy to understand why the idea of open innovation receives a lot of support. It sounds extremely attractive. However, the challenge is how to put these ideas into practice.

That’s where open source enters the picture. Open source removes both financial and contractual barriers that would otherwise prevent many users and external developers from experimenting with the system. For this reason, open source can boost open innovation.

However, in my view, there’s a lot more to successful open innovation than putting the underlying software platform into open source. We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that, because both these expressions start with the same adjective (“open”), the two expressions are essentially equivalent. They’re not.

Indeed, people who have studied open innovation have reached the conclusion that there are three keys to making open innovation work well for a firm (or platform):

  • Maximising returns to internal innovation
  • Incorporating external innovation in the platform
  • Motivating a supply of external innovations.

Let’s dig more deeply into the second and third of these keys.

Incorporating external innovation in the platform

The challenge here isn’t just to stimulate external innovation. It is to be able to incorporate this innovation into the codelines forming the platform. That requires the platform itself to be both sufficiently flexible and sufficiently stable. Otherwise the innovation will fragment the platform, or degrade its ongoing evolution.

It also requires the existence of significant skills in platform integration. Innovations offered by users or external developers may well need to be re-engineered if they are to be incorporated in the platform in ways that meet the needs of the user community as a whole, rather than just the needs of the particular users who came up with the innovation in question.

  • This can be summarised by saying that a platform needs skills and readiness for software codeline management, if it is to be able to productively incorporate external innovation.

Codeline management in turn depends on skills in:

  • Codeline gate-keeping: not accepting code that fails agreed quality criteria – no matter how much political weight is carried by the people trying to submit that code
  • Reliable and prompt code amalgamation: being quick to incorporate code that does meet the agreed criteria – rather than leaving these code submissions languishing too long in an in-queue
  • API management, system architecture, and modular design – to avoid any spaghetti-like dependencies between different parts of the software
  • Software refactoring – to be able to modify the internal design of a complex system, in the light of emerging new requirements, in order to preserve its modularity and flexibility – but without breaking external compatibility or losing roadmap momentum.

Motivating a supply of external innovations

The challenge here isn’t just to respond to external innovations when they arise. It is to give users and external developers sufficient motivation to work on their ideas for product improvement. These parties need to be encouraged to apply both inspiration and perspiration.

  • Just as the answer to the previous issue is skilled software codeline management, the answer to this issue is skilled ecosystem management.

Ecosystem management involves a mix of education and evangelism. It also requires active listening (also known as “being open-minded”), and a willingness by the platform providers to occasionally tweak the underlying platform, in order to facilitate important innovations under consideration by external parties. Finally it requires ensuring that third parties can receive suitable rewards for their breakthroughs – whether moral, social, or financial. This involves the mindset of “growing the pie for mutual benefit” rather than the platform owner seeking to dominate the value for its own sake.

But neither software codeline management nor ecosystem management comes easy. Neither fall out of the sky, ready for action, just by virtue of a platform being open source. Nor can these skills be acquired overnight, by spending lots of money, or hiring lots of intrinsically smart people.

Conclusion: On account of a legacy of more than ten years of trial and error in building and enhancing both a mobile platform and an associated dynamic ecosystem, the Symbian Foundation should come into existence with huge amounts of battle-hardened expertise in both software codeline management and ecosystem management. On that basis, I expect the additional benefits of open source will catalyse a significant surge of additional open innovation around the Symbian Platform. In contrast, other mobile platforms that lack this depth of experience are likely to find that open source brings them grief as much as it brings them potential new innovations. For these platforms, open source may result in divisive fragmentation and a dilution of ecosystem effort.

Footnote: For more insight about open innovation, I recommend the writings of Henry Chesbrough (mentioned above), Wim Vanhaverbeke, and Joel West.

31 July 2008

Smartphone Show keynotes looking stronger than ever

Filed under: Smartphone Show — David Wood @ 11:19 pm

If you’ve been keeping your eye on the Symbian Smartphone Show website, you’ll have seen the plans for the keynote sessions taking shape over the last few weeks. The lineup looks particularly strong this year.

Day One (Tuesday 21st Oct) features:

  • Nigel Clifford, Symbian CEO, presenting on “Symbian – 10 years of innovation – the next wave: Symbian Foundation Vision”
  • Ho-Soo Lee, EVP of Mobile Solutions Center, Samsung
  • Rob Shaddock, Corporate VP of Motorola, presenting on “Innovating in an open mobile world”.

These individual keynotes will be followed by a panel session, “Symbian Foundation – setting the future of mobile software free“, with speakers from the Symbian Foundation board member companies.

Day Two (Wednesday 22nd Oct) features:

  • Kai Öistämö, EVP Devices, Nokia, presenting on “The future of smartphones”
  • Mats Lindoff, CTO of Sony Ericsson, presenting on “Sony Ericsson and the Symbian Foundation: Open to innovation and differentiation”
  • Benoit Schillings, CTO of Trolltech, presenting on “Symbian & Qt: the best of both worlds”.

Again, these individual presentations will be followed by a panel session, “Who will win the runtime race“:

As the consumer’s appetite for increasingly advanced mobile services grows, the decision of choosing which runtime environment to support these services becomes vitally important. With many different leading runtime environments hosted on Symbian OS, both the vendor and developer communities are keeping a close eye on which will emerge as the preferred environment.

The speakers on this second panel cover many of the key mobile runtime environments:

Of course, the keynotes are only one of many reasons to attend this show. For example, see here for the extended agenda for Day One, and here for the extended agenda for Day Two. And that only scratches the surface of the wider set of formal and informal activities that will take place.

It should be fascinating.

I’ve had the good fortune to be close to the heart of nearly all the major Psion and Symbian expo events, from 1992. The event in 2008 looks like it will top them all.

Footnote: There are likely to be more changes in the keynote lineup, during the whirlwind months in between now and the show itself. Check the official website for updates.

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