Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Winds of change: The effect of BB, Android and iPhone on Symbian’s approach

On June 5th, 2008 Nokia, the world's biggest maker of mobile phones, announced the acquisition of Trolltech, a recognized software provider with world-class software development platforms and frameworks.

The story however was incomplete without Nokia having a controlling stake in one of the key platforms it uses on most of it's advanced devices.

On June 24th, 2008 Nokia, offered to buy the 52 percent of Symbian Ltd. that it doesn't own for about 264 million euros ($410 million) to gain control in the maker of operating systems for handsets. Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, the mobile-phone joint venture of Ericsson AB and Sony Corp., has 13.1 percent of Symbian, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.'s Panasonic holds 10.5 percent, Siemens AG 8.4 percent and Samsung Electronics Co. has 4.5 percent.

Symbian faces competition from Microsoft Corp., Research In Motion Ltd. and Apple Inc. in sales of operating systems for advanced wireless devices such as handheld computers and so- called smartphones, which allow users to access wireless Internet, check e-mail, play music and transmit video clips. Symbian's system was installed on about 7 percent of all mobile phones sold at the end of last year.

"Ten years ago, Symbian was established by far-sighted players to offer an advanced, open operating system and software skills to the whole mobile industry", said Symbian chief executive Nigel Clifford on Tuesday. "Our vision is to become the most widely used software platform on the planet, and indeed, today, Symbian OS leads its market by any measure."

With this acqusition Nokia also announced to use this platform to form open-source Android killer.

Companies including Nokia, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, LG Electronics, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, AT&T, Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronics and Vodafone announced that they will work together to make the Symbian OS open source. They will offer it under a royalty-free license to members of a new nonprofit group called the Symbian Foundation.

Symbian's decision to make its source code freely available tips the scales in favor of open-source software in smartphones and could make it harder for Microsoft, and even other open-source platforms like Google's Android and Linux, to compete.

“The platform will be free and open to develop on from the start whether you are enthusiast, web designer, professional developer or service provider. To develop on the platform you will not need to be a member of the foundation. The Symbian Foundation’s developer program will provide a single point of access for developer support; providing a wide offering of tools and resources.”

What will this all lead to??
--Symbian OS will become free. Nokia's Symbian-related assets, including both Symbian OS and the S60 interface, will be contributed to the new Symbian Foundation, a nonprofit that will control the Symbian platform. So Nokia writes the code and then gives it to the foundation for free.

The foundation will open source the new Symbian platform over a two year period. So eventually Symbian will be available for free.

The new Symbian Platform will have a broader scope than the current Symbian OS which would include:

-An application suite (previously controlled by licensees)
-Runtimes (including Webkit, Flash, Silverlight, and Java; previously licensee-controlled)
-UI framework (formerly controlled by licensees)
-Tools, SDK, and application signing (previously shared between Symbian and licensees)

--UIQ will be dead. SonyEricsson's UIQ technology, and NTT DoCoMo's MOAP, both of which are user interface layers written on top of Symbian, will also be contributed to the foundation, which will incorporate pieces of them into S60. The new Symbian foundation partners said at the press conference, "We will reposition UIQ in the new ecosystem." That's seems to be a face-saving way of saying, "UIQ is dead." Confirming that, UIQ announced immediate plans to lay off more than half its employees.

These are huge changes, even though they'll take a couple of years to implement. We won't get the first release of the new merged platform until 2010, although the partners say S60 and native Symbian apps will continue to run in the future, so they hope many more developers will create Symbian apps today in anticipation of future growth.

--Nokia will continue to control Symbian development. This is my interpretation, not something they announced. Technically, control over Symbian and S60 passes to the new Symbian Foundation, with product plans controlled by a managing board and councils made up of foundation members. This makes Symbian sound independent.

--It would help Apple? I think it's probably good news. Although the Symbian partners could theoretically bleed Apple by sharing investments that Apple has to fund for itself, Apple competes on speed and elegance, not cost control. Nokia and Symbian will now spend the next six months sorting out how they'll integrate and rationalize their organizations. No matter how much they try to avoid it, this will slip schedules and force people to revisit plans. And the other Symbian licensees have to wait two years for the new OS. That gives Apple a long, long time to build up its iPhone business.

--Google should be happy and worried? My first reaction is to say that Google should be worried because there's now another very credible operating system being given away for free in competition with Android (or there will be in two years). What's more, the leading mobile handset companies all participated in the Symbian Foundation announcement. That makes it harder for Android to get licensees. But the new open Symbian OS is two years away from shipment, giving Google lots of runway to get established (that's what I meant about execution determining the real impact of the announcement). Also, the governance system for Android is a lot simpler than Symbian's. While the Symbian committees must debate and agree on product plans, Google can just decide whatever features it wants to add, and toss them out there. In theory, Google should be able to move much faster, though they seem to be doing that at the moment.

Besides, there is the question of why Google really created Android. One school of thought says that Android was just a tool to bleed Microsoft and force openness in the mobile ecosystem. If that's the goal, then the opening up of Symbian is a kind of a triumph for Google. Nokia is, in many ways, doing Google's work for it. Which brings us to...

--What happens to Microsoft? Here's the weird thought for the day: Microsoft is the last major company charging money for a mobile operating system. How many companies are going to want to pay for Windows Mobile when they can get Linux, Android, or Symbian for free? This is Microsoft's ultimate open source nightmare, becoming real.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Entrepreneurship: The new 20's Syndrome

It's no longer about fat salaries and foreign trips. Today's young guns get their adrenalin rush from entrepreneurship

With a great job at Infosys that offered a long-term relocation to the UK, life couldn't have gotten rosier for my colleague Manish Garg. But Manish (29) gave it all for the startup - to offer mobility and banking solutions to clients in US and UK. He quit infosys in January 2005 to join the fellow batchmate Avinash Misra and myself. Today we have a 3 floor office in Bangalore with over 100 employees and offering nitch services in mobile and banking consulting and application development.

"This doesn't seem like work to me anymore. This is what we enjoy doing," says the IIT grad.

Like Manish there are an increasing number of young professionals - mostly in their 20s - who're quitting cushy jobs for the challenge of entrepreneurship. "There is no official record of the number of entrepreneurs in the country, so there is no way one can get exact figures on the increase of entrepreneurs. However, there are many indicators that one can look at to see the increase in entrepreneurs," says Laura Parkin, executive director of National Entrepreneurship Network, a body that seeks to promote entrepreneurship by bringing together students and entrepreneurs. "For one, there has been a heightened participation of students in NEN - from 500 five years ago to 55,000 today. Another is the number of entrepreneurship societies that have been formed."

Clubs like Kickstart, Mobile Mondays, and Open Coffee Club have opened in the past five years across the country and the membership numbers in each city run into hundreds.

Venture capital companies too have noticed a marked increase in projects that flow in. "From about 10 projects a month, we now look at around 50 every month. And although there has been a marked interest in entrepreneurship across board, there is certainly much more buzz across board, there is certainly much more buzz from the age group of people in their early 30s," says Kanwaljit Singh, MD of Helion Venture Partners.

Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are leading the entrepreneur brat pack, with Pune and Hyderabad catching up. In Bangalore, most of the entrepreneurs are in the technology, internet, mobile and telecom space, while Chennai sees more action in the service and software product segment. Mumbai's entrepreneurs gravitate towards internet companies and non-technology ventures like retail, particularly F&B retail.

"At least 40% of today's entrepreneurs in the mobile and internet space is dominated by people in their late 20s and early 30s. Mobile related applications se huge interest in India because of the enormous market size," says TC Meenakshisundaram, MD of venture capital firm IDG Ventures India. "The quality of deals have gone up. We now see more organized projects, greater products and better business models."

Yet to Mature
However, entrepreneurship and the venture capital (VC) community in India is not mature segment. "Most start ups lack organizational and managerial skills. They want to start their business but lack professional management. When a VC comes in, the young guns find it hard to share their space with someone senior from the industry," says Harish Gandhi, executive director of Canaan Partners. "Along with our funding we bring in professional management, which the startups can't always handle."

VCs feel that most startup teams are either an all-techie bunch without much business acumen or are a marketing team without much knowledge or understanding of technology.

I would like to quote the observations my colleague, Manish Garg here. "Most of the venture capital firms are US-based. Their mindset is different so while funding they think in terms of the US business environment. They need to understand that the way business functions here is totally different. Entrepreneurs who have only lived in India and not in the US, display cultural differences in their estimation of money required for a venture and utilisation of funds. Getting angle funding is not difficult in the US but in India it's not easy at all."

At the end, nothing succeeds like success. The concept of entrepreneurship has been romantised a lot. A lot of people jump in thinking it's 'cool'. But it's lot of hard work and it takes a strong team to stick to it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Predicting where you'll go and what you'll like

We're in the midst of a boom in devices that show where people are at any point in time. Global positioning systems are among the hottest consumer electronics devices ever, says Clinet Wheelock, chief research officer at ABI Research, a technology market follower. And cellphones increasingly come with G.P.S. chips. All of these devices churn out data that says something about how people live.

Such data could redefine what we know about consumer behaviour, giving businesses early insight into economic trends, better ways to determine sites for offices and retain stores, and more effective ways to advertise.

'New research that makes creative use of sensitive location-tracking data from 100,000 cellphones in Europe suggests that most people can be found in one of just a few locations at any time, and that they do not generally go far from home.' Knowing those routines means that you can set probabilities to them, and track how they change.

It's hard to make sense of such data, but Sense Networks, a software analytics company in New York, earlier this month released Macrosense, a tool that aims to do just that. Macrosense applied complex statistical algorithms to sift through the growing heaps of data about location and to make predictions or recommendations on various questions where a company should put its next store, for example.

Sense is not the only company engaged in reality mining. Inrix, a Microsoft spin-off, uses traffic data to predict traffic patterns. Path Intelligence of Britain monitors traffic flow in shopping centers by tracking cell-phones. Reality mining raises instant questions about privacy, especially when cellphone data is involved. In United States, it is illegal in many cases for cellphone companies to share customers' location data without their prior consent.

Though is needed is only the aggregate data and not the specific behaviour of individuals and there is little doubt that products we use everyday, like our cellphones or cars, will increasingly allow mapping the activities of people in general.

Gartner reports that the market which includes various navigation and search devices and subscriptions and services will nearly triple in revenue this year, to $ 1.3 billion from $485 million in 2007, and will reach $8 billion in 2011.

Enterprise users: Blackberry vs iPhone

The first generation iPhone is admittedly a beautiful object but it is rare to find one in a business traveller’s pocket.

I'd love an iPhone, but there are two simple reasons why it won't squash my BlackBerry: the BlackBerry keyboard enables me to type long emails efficiently; and I can copy/cut and paste between applications, which I can't do on the iPhone.

The iPhone's screen is gorgeous, its interface and ability to access the web in all its glory is second to none but few road warriors have chosen it as their device of choice. Even though Apple would have forged a tieup with it's earstwhile competitor Microsoft and if you take a look at the website for the new iPhone, it is the huge Microsoft Exchange logo that jumps out at you. Microsoft Exchange is the engine behind the email, contacts and calendar applications of a vast number of companies.

By adding support for this to the iPhone, which will allow easy access to your corporate as well as your personal email, Apple is aiming the second generation iPhone directly at the BlackBerry.

But as long as the iPhone lacks a physical keyboard it will never "squash" BlackBerry let's get real. People with BlackBerry's have them because they need to respond to emails and they're not always short. A real keybaord is why BB is on top.

Also BlackBerry has a huge following - 14 million people worldwide had one at the end of last year - the iPhone’s desirability coupled with industrial-strength push email will still find it tough to end this dominance.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Analysis on 3G iPhone Announcement

Apple announced on Monday a much faster iPhone that's half the price of the current model.

The news is expected to address one of the biggest complaints about the hugely popular iPhone: That its Internet browsing is too slow. CEO Steve Jobs said the new iPhone, which is based on 3G technology, is 36% faster than top rival Nokia's N95 smartphone.

The things however which were also anticipated and did not get a reference were:
--No tablet device.
--No major changes to the form factor of the iPhone
--No other major product announcements

This reflects from the fact that Apple shares fell 4% after the iPhone announcement, as some investors were left wanting more from the gadget maker. The stock had been up 55% in the past three months on heightened expectations for a radically improved iPhone and the possibility of other product launches.

Apple discussed some other interesting things in the keynote. Here's what we can decipher from the same, with some comments:

The "lower" pricing. As first reported, the new 8-gigabyte iPhone will cost $199 and a 16-gigabyte version will cost $299. However, since AT&T continues to share 24% of monthly revenue from original iPhone so it's revenues are set to get a hit which they announced to offset by raising the price of its unlimited iPhone data plan by $10 a month (as part of its new business model). Also, as part of its new business model, Apple will no longer pocket a share of customer fees.

Background processing of applications on iPhone? One of the critiques of the iPhone is that it doesn't allow third party applications to run in the background, without being visible to the user.

Apple now says that it has solved the background problem by setting up a notification server that can wake up applications on your iPhone and pass incoming messages to them. Since Apple won't run apps in the background, does that mean they'll suddenly launch on screen and start operating on their own? And although notification does some of the things you'd want from the background, it doesn't do them all. For example, some developers want to write background applications that would perform tasks automatically, whether they are pinged by an outside server or not. But still it is a move in the right direction for sure !!!

Apple Development Center. Where is it heading? Apple bragged in the keynote that there were 25,000 applicants to the iPhone developer program, but the company admitted only 4,000. In other words, they seriously pissed off 21,000 developers.

The question is, when (if ever) do the other 21,000 developers get into the program?

Application demo's and what to expect. During the show, Jobs also introduced a slew of new applications for the iPhone, including a wireless system that automatically forwards e-mail to other devices, a friend-finding service called Loopt and mobile blogging software from TypePad.

Other new applications include a service from that provides a live scoreboard of major league games, and music-making software, called Cow Terry, for creating songs on the phone.

The new iPhone applications are aimed at boosting revenue from data services. Apple, for instance, will charge $99 a year for its new MobileMe service, which sends e-mail, contact and calendar updates to users' devices.

Four of the applications demonstrated during the keynote were games, one was a consumer news applications, one was a social network product (Loopt), one was consumer shopping (eBay), one was consumer blogging (TypePad), one was sports information, and two were vertical medical.

Infact, Jobs kicked off the conference by talking about the iPhone for business users. He said that the iPhone now works with Microsoft's Exchange office server systems - a key feature if the iPhone hopes to seize market share from the BlackBerry. Jobs said that 35% of the Fortune 500 has participated in a beta program for business applications for the iPhone. But the demos were all related to consumer app.

What happens to iPod pricing? It's surprising that the price of the iPod Touch didn't change. It now looks more expensive than the iPhone, and it lacks GPS. I would not be shocked if the Touch ends up getting a price action this fall.

Since the original iPhone was introduced nearly a year ago, Apple has sold 6 million handsets, Jobs said Monday. The company has set a goal of selling 10 million handsets worldwide this year.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Single Consistent Platform for Mobile Application Development

In the mobile development community there has been a constant uproar to find a platform which is supported by many, if not all, mobile manufacturers.

Recently Adobe announced a series of changes. The changes include:

--The next version of the mobile Flash runtime will be free of license fees. Adobe also confirmed that the mobile version of the Air runtime will be free.

--Adobe changed its licensing terms and released additional technical information that will make it easier for companies to create their own Flash-compatible products.

--The company announced a new consortium called Open Screen supporting the more open versions of Flash and Air. Members of the new group include the five leading handset companies, three mobile operators (including NTT, DoCoMo and Verizon), technology vendors (including Intel, Cisco, and Qualcomm), and content companies (BBC, MTV, and NBC Universal). Google, Apple, and Microsoft are not members.

Adobe said that the idea behind the announcements is to create a single consistent platform that lets developers create an application or piece of content once and run it across various types of devices and operating systems. That idea is very appealing to developers and content companies today. It was equally appealing two years ago, when then-CEO of Adobe Bruce Chizen made the exact same promise:
If we execute appropriately we will be the engagement platform, or the layer, on top of anything that has an LCD display, any computing device -- everything from a refrigerator to an automobile to a video game to a computer to a mobile phone.

Microsoft had tried to do the same by the launch of Microsoft Silverlight and in that sense Adobe has still to do a lot of follow up with Microsoft.

Also, the most important changes appear to apply to the next version of mobile Flash and the upcoming mobile version of Air -- meaning this was in part a vaporware announcement. Even when the new runtime software ships, it will take a long time to get it integrated into mobile phones. So once again, Microsoft has a long runway to maneuver on.

Still, the changes Adobe made are very useful. There's no way Flash could have become ubiquitous in the mobile world while Adobe was still charging fees for it. The changes to the Flash license terms remove one of the biggest objections I've seen to Flash from open source advocates. The Flash community seems excited and the list of supporters is impressive. Looking through the obligatory quotes attached to the Adobe release, two things stand out:

--Adobe got direct mentions of Air from ARM, Intel, SonyEricsson, Verizon, and Nokia (although Nokia promised only to explore Air, while it's on the record promising to bundle Silverlight mobile).

--The inclusion of NBC Universal in the announcement will have Adobe people chuckling because Microsoft signed up NBC to stream the Olympics online using Silverlight. So NBC is warning Microsoft not to take it for granted, and Adobe gets to stick its tongue out.

What does it all mean?
Nothing much in the short term. As I mentioned earlier, this is mostly a vaporware announcement (other than the license changes). Some people are speculating that this will put pressure on Apple to make Flash available on the iPhone. That's possible, if Apple's real concern was that they didn't like Flash Lite. Now they can port full Flash, or someone else can do it. But if Apple is in reality unwilling to let anyone else's platform run on the iPhone then we'll see other objections to Flash emerge.

The marketing competition to control the future of mobile apps is continuing to heat up. Microsoft is trying to take the whole thing proprietary by creating a comprehensive architecture, Adobe is trying to drive its own platform, Sun is trying to re-energize J2ME, Google is making its own moves with Android, and so on. Plus, of course, most mobile app developers today are happy with what they're using now and have little economic interest in switching to any unified development platform.

It's an enormously complex situation, and it's going to take months, if not years, before we can start to see who's winning and who is losing.

Consumer is the king

In the coming years, the majority of new technologies that enterprises adopt for their information systems will have roots in consumer applications.

If technology trends previously began in enterprises and the defence sector and would then spread out to the consumer market, increasingly now the move is in the opposite direction: people adopting technologies and applications which enterprises are then compelled to adopt. These consumers, who are also employees, are getting used to comforts, easy access and a certain way of living in their homes. And they expect the same environment when they are in their workplace.

Creating critical mass
Email began as a means for internal communication in organisation and then found its way into people's daily lives. But today, newer technologies and solutions are being introduced among consumers to generate a critical mass and usage. Adoption by consumers then makes enterprises to recognize the need for those technologies and implement them into their operations. Analysts point out that attempts by enterprises to void such technologies are doomed to fail.

"Initially companies did not consider using the BlackBerry which has now become a common mobile device among organizations," says Jayakrishnan S, VP, e-business service, Wipro Technologies.

Google has become the one and only search tool for a majority of Internet users. But a lot of the search results are redundant. This provides opportunities for IT companies to devise customized search options. "IT companies can leverage on the huge customer base that uses search."

They can build on the search by Google to give the user exact results that he/she asked for and reduce redundancy," Jayakrishnan says. Enterprises can also customize Google search for themselves to obtain search results, he adds. According to research firm Gartner, going forward, enterprises will have to identify a consumer trend and see how they can package their solutions as a business proposition to their solutions as business proposition to their potential clients. More and more innovation in the IT sector will be driven by the consumer market and not by enterprise customers along, says Gartner.

"With the access to SmartPhones the employees have started leveraging the features like Mobile Office to review documents while they are on the move using their mobile devices. The concept which initially took off as a backup solution for the consumers, is fast kicking in with consumer, driving a change that enterprises need to consider. Nowadays it is becoming common for companies to provide access to confidential documents/data on to their mobile phones," says Avinash Misra, CEO, Endeavour Software India.

Towards openness
Enterprises had their own solutons for employee to virtually share ideas such as the knowledge management portals. But these did not get employee acceptance as they had their own preferred modes of communication for bonding with friends and family. Organizations thus started modifying the available technologies and implement them with proper overall protection for data and information.

"A new species of workers are entering the workplace that makes use of platforms like Second Life for social interactions or just hanging out. The digital existence is on the rise with web 2.0 tools and high frequency of electronic communication. Organizations will have to look at deploying communication applications and devices that help retain this new generation of workers," says Deepak Kumar, GM, communications research in analyst firm IDC India. But the acceptance of these technologies will be slow among enterprises as they pose security challenge too, Kumar says.

A Microsoft official says enterprises are adopting the new technologies as they want to portray more openness. "Instant messengers are now part of an organization's way to communicate minimizing issues such as voice call costs and email delays. But they are modified and are behind a protected environment," he says.
Gartner believes that for the next ten years, the growing practice of introducing new technologies into consumer markets prior to industrial markets will be the most significant trend affecting IT. As a result, the majority of new technologies that enterprises adopt for their information systems between 2007 and 2012 is expected to have roots in consumer applications.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

BlackBerry OS Roadmap (and 0S 4.5 features!)

It looks like BlackBerry is set to launch new features and functionality for BlackBerrys this summer! OS 4.5 is set to hit this summer for all BlackBerrys except the 8707. Another interesting note is that OS 4.6 (i.e. the BlackBerry Bold’s OS) is set for the second half of this year.

Blackberry Cool has made a post with the OS Road Map. The only thing is that Blackberry Releases the OS to the carriers for them to distribute to their customers. So depending on your Wireless Carrier is when you would actually get the newer Blackberry OS.