dw2

15 February 2009

Deja vu, with a difference

Filed under: brand, Events, vision — David Wood @ 1:15 pm

As I walked through Barcelona airport this morning, my mind was jostled by sights and sounds remembered from my previous visits here. I’m in town to attend the annual Mobile World Congress trade show. (The show used to be called “3GSM”, and before that, “GSM World”.)

I’ve been attending this show every year since 2002. From 2002-05 it was held at Cannes, in France, in increasingly cramped circumstances – as the mobile industry grew and grew and grew. Since 2006 it has taken place 300 miles south west along the Mediterranean coast in Barcelona. So today marks my fourth annual visit to Barcelona airport.

As I walked through the airport, I found myself remembering:

  • that was the place where on my first visit, I had walked out of the wrong exit, and needed to go back in through a lengthy security screening process again before I could pick up my luggage;
  • that was the place where, another year, I had queued up to report that my luggage was missing (happily, it was delivered to my hotel by first thing the following morning);
  • that was the coffee shop where I had relaxed with some colleagues before going to the gate on the way home one year;
  • that was the restaurant where I had eaten a meal with a slightly different set of colleagues a different year, while awaiting news of delayed departure times; and so on.

The place is full of memories. But there’s a big difference this year. The remembrances of similarity mask underlying transitions.

For example, I’ll be spending a lot of my time over the next few days at the same hospitality suite as in previous years – AV91 on the main Fira avenue – but the suite has a very different feel this year. Here’s a picture of the outside of the suite, taken earlier today:

As you can see, the suite was still under construction – but some elements of the emerging Symbian Foundation branding are visible. The “friendly spaceman” has a side panel all to himself:

Other Symbian Foundation doodle characters are also visible: the inspired toaster, and so on. (No, these names aren’t official…)

Again, I’ll also be spending time at the same stand location as before – 8A77, in Hall 8 – but, again, the feel has changed:

What’s more, many of the colleagues who came with me to previous Mobile World Congress events, aren’t attending this year. The other members of the Symbian Leadership Team are primarily engaged these days in important internal integration projects inside Nokia, and have no reason to travel to Barcelona this year. So I’ll be sharing my duties – meeting press, analysts, bloggers, partners, and potential new members of the Symbian Foundation community – with a new set of Leadership Team colleagues – the members of the emerging Symbian Foundation Leadership Team.

Finally, the emphasis of these meetings will be less on the number of phones shipped, and more on the growing vibrancy and productivity of the Symbian Foundation community. After all, we can only aspire to provide the most widely used software on the planet if, along the way, we grow the most productive and valuable software movement on the planet.

Footnote: Another visible difference, from last year, is that the number of large advertising hoardings scattered all over the city seems significantly less this year.

3 November 2008

Mobile 2.0 keynote

Filed under: developer experience, fragmentation, integration, Open Source, vision — David Wood @ 11:32 pm

Earlier today, I had the privilege to deliver the opening keynote at the Mobile 2.0 event in San Francisco. This posting consists of a copy of the remarks I prepared.

The view from 2013

My topic is Open Source, as a key catalyst for Mobile Innovation 2.0.

Let’s start by fast forwarding five years into the future. Imagine that we are gathered for the 2013 “Mobile 2.0” conference – though the name may have changed by that time, perhaps to Mobile 3.0 or even Mobile 4.0 – and perhaps the conference will be taking place virtually, with much less physical transportation involved.

Five year into the future, we may look back at the wonder devices of today, 2008: the apparently all-conquering iPhone, the Android G1, the Nokia E71, the latest and greatest phones from RIM, Windows Mobile, and so on: all marvellous devices, in their own ways. From the vantage point of 2013, I expect that our thoughts about these devices will be: “How quaint! How clunky! How slow! How did we put up with all the annoyances and limitations of these devices?”

This has happened before. When the first Symbian OS smartphones reached the market in 2002 – the Nokia 7650, and the Sony Ericsson P800 – they received rave reviews in many parts of the world. These Symbian smartphones were celebrated at the time as breakthrough devices with hitherto unheard of capabilities, providing great user experiences. It is only in retrospect that expectations changed and we came to see these early devices as quaint, clunky, and slow. It will be the same with today’s wonder phones.

Super smart phones

That’s because the devices of five years time will (all being well) be so much more capable, so much slicker, so much more usable, and so much more enchanting than today’s devices. If today’s devices are smart phones, the devices of 2013 will be super smart phones.

These devices will be performing all kinds of intelligent analysis of data they are receiving through their sensors: their location and movement sensors, their eyes – that is, their cameras – and their ears – that is, their always-on recording devices.

They’ll also have enormous amounts of memory – both on-board and on-network. Based on what they’re sensing, and on what they know, and on their AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms, they’ll be guiding us and informing us about all the things that are important to us. They’ll become like our trusted best friends, in effect whispering insight into our ears.

We can think of these devices as like our neo neo-cortex. Just as primates and especially humans have benefited from the development of the neo-cortex, as the newest part of our brains in evolutionary terms, so will users of super smartphones benefit from the enhanced memory, calculation powers, and social networking capabilities of this connected neo neo-cortex.

In simple terms, these devices can be seen as adding (say) 20 points to our IQs – perhaps more. If today’s smartphones can make their users smarter, the super smartphones of 2013 can make their users super smart.

Solving hard problems

That’s the potential. But the reality is that it’s going to be tremendously hard to achieve that vision. It’s going to require an enormously sophisticated, enormously capable, mobile operating system.

Not everyone shares my view that operating systems are that important. I sometimes hear the view expressed that improvements in hardware, or the creation of new managed code environments, somehow reduce the value of operating systems, making them into a commodity.

I disagree. I strongly disagree. It’s true that improvements in both hardware and managed code environments have incredibly important roles to play. But there remain many things that need to be addressed at the operating system level.

Here are just some of the hard tasks that a mobile operating system has to solve:

  • Seamless switching between different kinds of wireless network – something that Symbian’s FreeWay technology does particularly well;
  • Real-time services, not only handling downloads of extremely large quantities of data, but also manipulating that data in real time – decompressing it, decrypting it, displaying it on screen, storing it in the file system, etc;
  • All this must happen without any jitter or delay – even though there may be dozens of different applications and services all talking at the same time to several different wireless networks;
  • All this rich functionality must be easily available to third party developers;
  • However, that openness of developer access must coexist with security of the data on the device and the integrity of the wireless networks;
  • And, all this processing must take place without draining the batteries on the device;
  • And without bamboozling the user due to the sheer scale and complexity of what’s actually happening;
  • And all this must be supported, not just for one device, but in a way that can be customised and altered, supporting numerous different form factors and usage models, without fragmenting the platform.

Finally, please note that all this is getting harder and more complex: every year, the amount of software in a top-range phone approximately nearly doubles. So in five years, there’s roughly up to 32 times as much software in the device. In ten years, there could be 1000 times as much software.

Engaging a huge pool of productive developers

With so many problems that need to be solved, I will say this. The most important three words to determine the long-term success of any mobile operating system are: Developers, Developers, Developers. To repeat: the most important three words for the success of the Symbian platform are: Developers, Developers, Developers.

We need all sorts and shapes and sizes of developers – because, as I said, there are so many deep and complex problems to be solved, as the amount of software in mobile phone platforms grows and grows.

No matter how large and capable any one organisation is, the number of skilled developers inside that organisation is only a small fraction of the number outside. So it comes down to enabling a huge pool of productive and engaged developers, outside the organisation, to work alongside the original developers of the operating system – with speed, creativity, skill, and heartfelt enthusiasm. That’s how we can collectively build the successful super smart phones of the future.

Just two weeks ago, the annual Symbian Smartphone Show put an unprecedented focus on developers. We ran a Mobile DevFest as an integral part of the main event. We announced new developer tools, such as the Symbian Analysis Workbench. We will shortly be releasing new sets of developer APIs (application programming interfaces) in new utility libraries, to simplify interactions with parts of the Symbian programming system that have been found to cause the most difficulty – such as text descriptors, two phase object construction and cleanup, and active objects.

The critical role of open source

But the biggest step to engage and enthuse larger numbers of developers is to move the entire Symbian platform into open source.

This will lower the barriers of entry – in fact, it will remove the barriers of entry. It will allow much easier study of the source code, and, critically, much easier participation in the research and creation of new Symbian platform software. We are expecting a rapid increase in collaboration and innovation. This will happen because there are more developers involved, and more types of developers involved.

That’s why the title of my talk this morning is “Open Source: Catalyst for Mobile Innovation 2.0”. The “2.0” part means greater collaboration and participation than ever before: people not just using the code or looking at the code, but recommending changes to it and even contributing very sizeable chunks of new and improved code. The Open Source part is one of the key enablers for this transformation.

Necessary, but not sufficient

However, Open Source is only one of the necessary enablers. Open Source is a necessary but not sufficient ingredient. There are two others:

  1. A stable and mature software base, with reliable processes of integration, which I’ll talk more about in a moment;
  2. Mastery of the methods of large-scale Agile development, allowing rapid response to changing market needs.

Fragmentation inside an operating system

Here’s the problem. Fragmentation is easy, but Integration is hard.

Fragmentation means that different teams or different customers pull the software in different directions. You end up, in the heat of development in a fast-moving market, with different branches, that are incompatible with each other, and which can’t be easily joined together. The result is that solutions created by developers for one of these branches, fail to work on the other branches. A great deal of time can be wasted debugging these issues.

Here, I speak from bitter experience. During the rapid growth days of Symbian, we lost control of aspects of compatibility in our own platform – despite our best efforts. For example, we had one version called 7.0s and another called 7.0, but lots of partners reported huge problems moving their solutions between these two versions. Because of resulting project delays, major phones failed to come to the market. It was a very painful period.

Nowadays, in the light of our battle-hardened experience, Symbian OS is a much more mature and stable platform, and it is surrounded and supported by an ecosystem of very capable partners. In my view, we have great disciplines in compatibility management and in codeline management.

The result is that we have much better control over the integration of our platform. That puts us in a better position to handle rapid change and multiple customer input. That means we can take good advantage of the creativity of open source, rather than being pulled apart by the diverse input of open source. Other platforms may find things harder. For them, open source may bring as many problems as it brings solutions.

Fragmentation across operating systems

This addresses the fragmentation inside a single operating system. But the problem remains of fragmentation across different operating systems.

Although competition can be healthy, too many operating systems result in developers spreading their skills too thinly. The mobile industry recognises that it needs to consolidate on a smaller number of mobile operating systems moving forwards. The general view is that there needs to be consolidation on around three or (at the most) four advanced mobile operating systems. Otherwise the whole industry ends up over-stretched.

So, which will be the winning mobile operating systems, over the next five years? In the end, it will come down to which phones are bought in large quantities by end users. In turn, the choices offered to end users are strongly influenced by decisions by phone manufacturers and network operators about which operating systems to prefer. These companies have four kinds of issues in their minds, which they want to see mobile operating systems solve:

  • Technical issues, such as battery life, security, and performance, as well as rich functionality;
  • Commercial issues, such as cost, and the ability to add value by differentiation;
  • Political issues, in which there can be a perception that the future evolution of an operating system might be controlled by a company or organisation with divergent ulterior motivations;
  • Reliability issues, such as a proven track record for incrementally delivering new functionality at high quality levels in accordance with a pre-published roadmap.

A time for operating systems to prove themselves

Again, which will be the winning operating systems, over the next five years? My answer is that is slightly too early to say for sure. The next 12-18 months will be a time of mobile operating systems proving themselves. Perhaps three or four operating systems will come through the challenge, and will attract greater and greater support, as customers stop hedging their bets. Others will be de-selected (or merged).

For at least some of the winning smartphone operating systems, there will be an even bigger prize, in the subsequent 2-3 years. Provided these operating systems are sufficiently scalable, they will become used in greater and greater portions of all phones (not just smartphones and high-end feature phones).

Proving time for the Symbian Foundation platform

Here’s how I expect the Symbian platform to prove itself in the next 12-18 months. Our move to open source was announced in June this year, and we said it could take up to two years to complete it. Since then, planning has been continuing, at great speed. Lee Williams, current head of the S60 organisation in Nokia, and formerly of Palm Inc and Be Inc, has been announced as the Executive Director of the Symbian Foundation.

The Foundation will make its first software release midway through the first half of 2009. Up till that point, access to internal Symbian OS source code is governed by our historical CustKit Licence and DevKit Licence. There’s a steep entry price, around 30,000 dollars per year, and a long contract to sign to gain access, so the community of platform developers has been relatively small. From the first Symbian Foundation release, that will change.

The source code will be released under two different licenses. Part will be open source, under the Eclipse Public Licence. This part has no licence fee, and is accessible to everyone. The other part will be community source, under an interim Symbian Foundation Licence. This is also royalty free, but there is a small contract that companies have to sign, and a small annual fee of 1,500 dollars. I expect a large community to take advantage of this.

This interim community source part will diminish, in stages, until it vanishes around the middle of 2010. By then, everything will be open source. We can’t get there quicker because there are 40 million lines of source code altogether, and we need to carry out various checks and cleanups and contract renegotiations first. But we’ll get there as quickly as we can.

There’s one other important difference worth highlighting. It goes back to the theme of reducing fragmentation. Historically, there have been three different UIs for Symbian OS: S60, UIQ, and MOAP(S) used in Japan. But going forwards, there will only be one UI system: S60, which is nowadays flexible enough to support the different kinds of user models for which the other UI systems were initially created.

To be clear, developers don’t have to wait until 2010 before experimenting with this software system. Software written to the current S60 SDK will run fine on these later releases. We’ll continue to make incremental compatible releases throughout this time period.

What you should also see over this period is that the number of independent contributors will increase. It won’t just be Nokia and Symbian employees who are making contributions. It will be like the example of the Eclipse Foundation, in which the bulk of contributions initially came from just one company, IBM, but nowadays there’s a much wider participation. So also for the Symbian Foundation, contributions will be welcome based on merit. And the governance of the Foundation will also be open and transparent.

The view from 2013

I’ll close by returning to the vision for 2013. Inside Symbian, we’ve long had the vision that Symbian OS will be the most widely used software platform on the planet. By adopting the best principles of open source, we expect we will fulfil this vision. We expect there will in due course be, not just 100s of millions, but billions of great devices, all running our software. And we’ll get there because we’ll be at the heart of what will be the most vibrant software ecosystem on the planet – the mobile innovation ecosystem. Thank you very much.

12 August 2008

Audacious goals

Filed under: BHAG, Psion, Symbian Foundation, vision — David Wood @ 8:02 pm

Martin Sauter asks: Which BHAGs are held by companies in the wireless space?

BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is a memorable term introduced by Jim Collins and Jerry Poras in their watershed book, “Built to last: successful habits of visionary companies”. This book was widely read (and debated) within Psion in the mid 1990s. I vividly remember Psion Chairman and CEO David Potter giving an internal talk on themes from that book relevant to Psion. That talk had a lasting effect.

As Martin mentions, Symbian has been driven for many years by the audacious idea that, one day, Symbian OS will be the most widely used software platform on the planet. But that’s only one of several BHAGs in my mind.

Personally I prefer to say that Symbian’s goal is to be the most widely used and most widely liked software platform on the planet. That’s because I see the latter element as being a key contributor towards the former element. My vision is that people of all dispositions and from all social groups the world over will have good reason to want to use devices running this software – and will be able to afford them.

Here’s another BHAG. Looking towards the activities of the Symbian Foundation (assuming that the regulatory authorities approve the deal that creates this foundation), I envision a time when the ten or so principal package owners for the Symbian Platform will be among the most widely admired and respected software engineers on the planet. Books and articles will frequently write about each of these principal package owners and their finely honed skills in software architecture, software quality, software usability, and large-scale software integration. These articles will celebrate the different backgrounds and different sponsor-companies of these principal package owners (and will no doubt also delve into the multi-faceted inter-personal relationships among this group of world-striding individuals). These individuals will be the pin-up superstars who inspire new generations of emerging world-class software engineers.

I have other large-scale aspirations concerning the future of the Symbian Foundation, but it’s not appropriate to talk about these for the moment. However, what I am happy to share is some audacious ideas for the evolution of the products that I expect to be created, based on Symbian OS, in the 15-25 years ahead:

  • The human-computer interaction will sooner or later evolve to become a far more efficient brain-computer interaction. Instead of device owners needing to type in requests and then view the results on a physical screen, it will be possible for them to think requests and then (in effect) intuit the results via inner mental vision. (Just as we all had to learn to type, we’ll have to learn to think anew, to use these improved interfaces, if you see what I mean.) So the rich information world of the internet and beyond will become available for direct mental introspection;
  • The smartphone devices of the future will be more than information stores and communications pathways; they will have powerful intelligence of their own. Take the ideas of a spell-checker and grammar-checker and magnify them to consider an idea-checker and an internal coach. So the smartphone will become, for those who wish it, like a trusted best friend;
  • Adding these two ideas together, I foresee a time when human IQ and EQ are both radically boosted by the support of powerful mobile always-connected electronic brains and their nano-connections into our biological brains. To be clear, such devices ought to make us wiser as well as smarter, and kinder as well as stronger. For a glimpse of what this might mean, I suggest you take the time to find out what happens to one of the key characters in Kevin Bohacz’s awkwardly titled but engrossing and audacious (I think that’s the right word in this context) novel “Immortality”.

There’s more. In addition to far-reaching ideas about the products that the operation of the Symbian Foundation will eventually enable, it’s also worth considering some far-reaching ideas about the problem-solving capabilities of the robust yet transparent open collaborative methods expected to be deployed by the Symbian Foundation (methods that build on best practice established in the first ten years of Symbian’s history). In other words, the potential benefits of richly skilled open collaboration go far beyond the question of how to create world-beating smartphones. As highlighted in the tour-de-force “The upside of down” by the deeply thoughtful Canadian researcher Thomas Homer Dixon, the profound structural issues facing the future of our society (including climate change, energy shortage, weapons proliferation, market instability, fundamentalist abdication of rationality, and changing population demographics) are so inter-twined and so pervasive that they will require a new level of worldwide collaboration to solve them. Towards the end of his book, Homer-Dixon points to the transformative potential of open-source software mechanisms for inspiration for how this new level of collaboration can be achieved. It’s an intriguing analysis. Can open source save the world? Watch this space.

Footnote: Having the right BHAG is an important first step towards a company making a dent in the universe. But it’s only one of many steps. Although “Built to last” is a fine book, I actually prefer Jim Collin’s later work, “From good to great: why some companies make the leap … and others don’t”. In effect, “From good to great” is full of acutely insightful ideas on how companies can make progress towards their BHAGs.

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