Nokia boosts Qt commitment, changes Symbian strategy

Nokia logoNokia has announced some new plans to refine its mobile platform strategy. The company says that the current Symbian versioning scheme will be dropped in favor of a more rapid and incremental approach to development. The company also affirmed its commitment to the open source Qt development toolkit, which will become the "sole focus" of Nokia's application development efforts across both Symbian and the Linux-based MeeGo platform.

When the Symbian Foundation formulated its roadmap last year for transitioning from the classic S60 environment to the next generation of the platform, the plan was to deliver three major version releases at six-month intervals. The existing S60 stack was dubbed Symbian^1, and the foundation's first official release was Symbian^2. Symbian^3 debuted on Nokia's new N8 handset and Symbian^4 was originally expected to launch in 2011. That plan is being abandoned in favor of a new incremental development model that will see new features and capabilities rolled out on a regular basis.

One of the most noteworthy advantages of this strategy is that existing users won't be left behind. Nokia says that the expected updates will arrive on Symbian^3 devices, ensuring that consumers of those products will benefit from Nokia's ongoing efforts to modernize the platform. It also means that Symbian enthusiasts won't have to wait as long to see the much-needed user experience improvements that were planned for Symbian^4 come to actual handsets.

Nokia's plan to use Qt for all of its own applications is also significant. It will enable richer user interfaces and more consistency between Symbian and MeeGo. It also sends a strong message to third-party developers that Qt is ready for prime time on Nokia devices. The recent Qt 4.7 release brings some extremely compelling new functionality for building modern touch-friendly mobile software. Taking advantage of these capabilities will make the Symbian user experience better and help ameliorate some of the issues that detract from Symbian's competitiveness. During my recent tests of the N8, I often found myself thinking that the whole experience would be better if Qt was used pervasively in the bundled applications.

Nokia's strategy announcement comes at a challenging time for Symbian. Some of the platform's biggest backers have moved on to Android and other competing options, leaving Nokia alone as the last major handset maker shipping Symbian. News came out this week that the Symbian Foundation's hapless executive director is stepping down for "personal reasons" and being replaced. This has led to speculation that the foundation might be preparing to close shop and hand control back over to Nokia.

I discussed the Symbian strategy shift with Rich Green, Nokia's CTO. The platform won't change dramatically overnight, he says, but we can expect to see real benefits from Nokia's plan of rapid iteration. He also emphasized Nokia's commitment to insulating users and developers from potential fragmentation issues. As the changes roll out, existing third-party software will continue to work properly and new third-party software will be able to run on existing devices. Developers can also expect to be able to take advantage of new Qt features as they are made available.

Nokia appears to be taking a more hands-on approach to setting the direction for Symbian, but Green says that the Symbian Foundation still has an important role to play. He believes that we might see some of the other handset makers come back to the table when technical advancements driven by Qt and the new incremental development model begin to produce positive results.

It's not clear yet if these changes will be enough to make Symbian truly competitive with Android and iOS, but the new plan certainly looks like a step in the right direction.

Source: ars technica


Tags: MeeGo, mobile phones, Nokia, Symbian

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