Who is behind the VisionMobile Community?

Here at VisionMobile we continually strive to bring our community of readers the ‘insider’ views on the fast-changing mobile market.

Since our very first blog post in January 2005 (Symbian: only one way to go) the blog readership has grown immensely – for example, the most popular posts have exceeded 10,000 reads, like the The Mobile Application Store phenomenon, The significance of Google’s Android and Flash Lite: Facts and Figures.

Readers to the blog have grown steadily to around 2,100 readers as of July 2009 as you can see from the graph below. There’s some jitter due to the way Feedburner is measuring blog readers (you can see the live count on the blog sidebar, too).

blog-stats1

Website visitors have been increasing continually, too, averaging over 7,000 unique visitors per month, as of July 2009. A key part of this has been ensuring high quality of articles; although at the expense of posting new articles only once every week or so.

Who’s behind the VisionMobile community?
There’s tons more stats we could dig up, but we were missing a key aspect: who are the readers of the blog? Who is behind the VisionMobile community and what do they want to see on our site?

– Blog readers 2,000+ via RSS and email
– Unique visitors/month:
7,000+, driven by content and twitter referrals
– Reader profile:
industry insiders, bloggers, developers?

Community survey
There’s lot’s more to ask, from You that is, the reader. Are we covering the topics of interest to you? Can we be improving our analysis and articles? Is there a report that you’d like to see us working on? Does our content really match our audience?

Community SurveyHelp us map the community by spending 60 seconds filling in our survey.

As an incentive, we are running a draw for five free Mobile Industry Atlas wallcharts for survey participants. The survey will close on Wednesday 30 September and we will notify the winner by email.

What will we do with the results?
We’ll take your feedback seriously. If there is something that we are not doing right, we’ll address these points constructively. We’ll also publish the results of the survey so that you can also get a better idea of the who else in your community is visiting this site.

So – help us map the community by completing the community survey.

Thanks – and keep the conversation going,

– Vanessa

Will Legacy Smartphone Platforms Keep-up with iPhone and Android?

[BlackBerry OS, Windows Mobile and Symbian/S60 were designed years ago – the traditional strengths of these software platforms are rapidly becoming liabilities in the fast-paced smartphone market. Guest blogger Michael Vakulenko answers a critical question: are user interface face-lifts, application stores or even going open source enough for the legacy smartphone platforms to stand-up to the challenges posed by iPhone and Android?]

In just two years smartphones have transformed from a niche product category to a fast growing segment playing key role in competitive struggle between mobile and Internet giants. According to Gartner, smartphone sales grew healthy 27%, while overall cell phone sales declined 6% in Q2 2009.

The unprecedented success of iPhone changed market requirements almost overnight; today smartphones are all about smooth delivery of digital content, applications and Web 2.0 services.

Coming from very different backgrounds, BlackBerry OS, Windows Mobile and Symbian/S60 were designed to achieve very different product objectives, being it a business productivity tool or a unified platform for wide range of high-end phones. Yet these software platforms will require radical improvements to compete with iPhone and Android, and ground-up design for the mobile Internet age.

BlackBerry OS is part of an end-to-end mobile messaging solution developed by RIM for the enterprise market. It was designed to integrate with enterprise collaboration systems, provide state-of-the-art security and operate over low-bandwidth 2.5G cellular networks.

Windows Mobile evolved as a variant of the Pocket PC operating system, adding a cellular phone to the PDA. Windows Mobile was conceived as a companion product for Microsoft Windows operating systems and Office application suites.

Symbian OS together with ‘Series 60′ user interface powers Nokia’s high-end phones. It was designed to provide consistent software platform for very broad range of Nokia phones – From souped-up feature phones like 6120 to multimedia power-phones like N96 and business-oriented phones like E71. As a result, Symbian/S60 is skewed towards phone functions, really being a good mobile phone with multimedia capabilities and supporting downloadable applications.

We will return to the legacy platforms later in the discussion, but in general, legacy smartphone platforms do a decent job in their respective “comfort zones”. Nonetheless, when taken out of their natural environment they fall far behind in comparison to iPhone and Android. These modern platforms were designed for new market requirements without constraints of legacy code or backwards compatibility considerations.

iPhone and Android
While technically very different, iPhone and Android share many common traits. Both are designed as true multi-purpose devices fulfilling a wide spectrum of business and personal use cases. The user interface of these software platforms relies on relatively large touch-screens with gesture-based controls, designed for device personalization, easy discovery, delivery and consumption of content, application and services.

Downloadable applications further extend the spectrum of possibilities with the device. iPhone and Android offer software development environments allowing fast and easy creation of wide array of novel applications from turning the device into a musical instrument to location-based collaboration services and augmented reality systems.

High-speed 3G networks and Wi-Fi connectivity finally brought Web applications to mobile devices. iPhone and Android are equipped with powerful state-of-the art Web browsers based on the open source WebKit engine. Moreover, iPhone and Android browsers provide constantly improving support for emerging HTML5 standard, which brings capabilities of Web applications even closer to capabilities of applications installed on the device. This includes JavaScript performance improvements, location services and offline capabilities which are critically important on mobile devices.

There is wide gap between modern and legacy smartphone platforms in all these areas, calling for radical improvements to the legacy platforms. This gap cannot be closed by just user interface face-lifts, launching application stores or even going open source.

Blackberry
BlackBerry is recognized for its user interface optimized for email and productivity applications. It, however, showed its limitations on BlackBerry Storm – Not such a successful touchscreen “iPhone killer”.

The BlackBerry application environment is based on the J2ME framework with proprietary extensions by RIM. The J2ME framework was originally designed for feature phones and as such restricts access to device capabilities available to applications. Proprietary extensions introduced by RIM to J2ME further deepen fragmentation and lack of compatibility characteristic of the J2ME environment.

BlackBerry is a closed platform tightly integrated with BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). For example, there are six different methods for an application to open up an Internet connection. Instead of going to the open Internet, most of them end up traversing BES in the enterprise data center. While this approach makes perfect sense for many enterprise use cases, it does not necessary work well for the open Internet. Furthermore, BlackBerry platform utilizes proprietary Web browser, which obviously slows down adoption of latest Web technologies by the BlackBerry platform.

Taking the BlackBerry platform out of its natural habitat of corporate messaging stretches capabilities of the architecture. Without significant improvements and openness in application and Web services frameworks, BlackBerry will find it difficult to complete with iPhone and Android outside of its established customer target segment.

Windows Mobile
Upcoming Windows Mobile 6.5 (Windows Phone by its new moniker) promises much-needed user interface improvements and a better Web browser. Unfortunately, the new version of Windows Mobile is still based on the same outdated version of Windows CE kernel, which was responsible for the lack of stability and responsiveness plaguing previous versions of the platform. Windows CE 5 limits applications to 32MB of memory per application and is restricted to 32 total processes in the system.

The Windows Mobile application environment is based on WIN32 and .NET Compact programming interfaces. While well understood and supported by software developers, these programming interfaces represent scaled-down versions of interfaces designed for Windows on PC. This environment is too complex and outdated compared to modern programming and mobile application paradigms.

All in all, Windows Mobile 6.5 appears to be an incremental stopgap solution. Presumably, the next major Windows Mobile version will leverage know-how gained by Microsoft with the acquisition of Danger, and provide long-term response from Microsoft to smartphone challenges. The big question is when will it come to the market?

Symbian/S60
Nokia’s Symbian/S60 user interface is infamous for its complexity and is optimized for making voice calls. It can greatly benefit from basic usability enhancements in practically everything else. For example, there is absolutely no reason why placing an application shortcut on the home screen requires going through nine (!) menu layers, or setting a meeting date cannot be done through a calendar widget. (disclaimer: I own Nokia E71).

Symbian/S60 offers multiple choices for application developers: Native Symbian code, J2ME, Flash Lite, Web Runtime and even Python scripting. None of these choices is great by itself – each has its own limitations and compatibility issues. Native programming has a steep learning curve and unnecessary complex signing procedures, while J2ME and the Web Runtime are too limited for modern applications.

Whilst the S60 Web browser is also based on WebKit engine, it is slow and lacks HTML5 capabilities supported by iPhone and Android.

Moreover, Nokia’s decision to open Symbian/S60 source has stalled development of the platform. It will be very difficult for Nokia and its partners to make major improvements to the platform in parallel to moving the platform to an open source model.

Summary
iPhone and Android set new standards and, at least in the medium term, will continue to lead the way in all major areas of smartphone software. There are no quick fixes for legacy platforms and it will take considerable time and massive R&D resources for RIM, Microsoft and Nokia to break from limitations of their product architectures and legacy code.

It will be great to continue this discussion on the future of the smartphone software platforms in the blog comments. Your feedback is much appreciated.

– Michael

[Michael Vakulenko has been working in the mobile industry for over 15 years starting his career in wireless in Qualcomm. Throughout his career he gained broad experience in many aspects of mobile technologies including handset software, mobile services, network infrastructure and wireless system engineering. Today Michael consults and provides expert training to established and start-up companies, and can be reached at michaelv [/at/] WaveCompass.com ]


atlas09Who’s who in the mobile industry ?
The Mobile Industry Atlas is a visual map of who’s who in the mobile industry, available in glossy A1 wallchart format (check here for video walkthrough). This comprehensive map showcases 800+ leading companies in 47 market sectors, spanning all major players involved from handset design through retailing including hardware, software, SIM cards, services and content. Available to buy in A1 wallchart and PDF versions from 75 GBP.

Open is the New Closed

[Android, Symbian, LiMo, Qt, WebKit… all open source projects, but how really open are they? Research Director Andreas Constantinou explains the differences between open source licenses and governance models and why governance is so misunderstood yet important in assessing true openness]

Openness is a much-misunderstood word; a kind of good-will moniker to which people attach an impressive variety of definitions; open source code, open standards, open handsets, openness as in transparency, shared roadmaps, open APIs, open route to market… It’s a very forgiving term as far as definitions go.

open-is-the-new-closed1

One of the industry’s favourite facets of openness is of course open source. For the past three years we ‘ve researching open source here at VisionMobile, partly because of our training course, and partly out of a drive to understand what this all means for the industry.

Lots of software vendors and consortia have embraced open source in some form or other; Symbian Foundation, LiMo Foundation, OHA/Android, Nokia Qt, Nokia Maemo, WebKit, GTK, Eclipse IDE, Sun phoneME and Funambol are the main efforts that have hit the limelight.

So what is open source ?
Open source licensed software carries four basic freedoms; the right to access (source code), modify, distribute and contribute to the software. These freedoms have been embodied in the key licenses – GPL, LGPL, APL, EPL, MPL, BSD and MIT – which are used in the vast majority of open source projects. The licenses in turn determine the rights and obligations that use of the source code carries. Unsurprisingly, strong copyleft licenses (read: GPL) are rarely used in mobile products, due to the OEM concerns for downstream liabilities.

But what’s often missed in open source discussions is how open source licenses tell only half the story.

Licenses typically govern control of the source code. But in the mobile industry, source code and products are two very different things. For example; while you can play with Android source code to your heart’s content, are the latest code check-ins publicly visible ? You can peak at Symbian Foundation’s EPL-licensed source code, but who arbitrates what changes go into Symbian? You can buy a LiMo-compliant handset, but as a LiMo member can you expect LiMo handsets to ship with your source code contributions ? You can create your own WebKit-based browser, but why is it so difficult to get your contributions back into the ‘tip of the tree’?

It turns out there’s often no ‘official’ answer to these questions, and when there is, the answer is a resounding No. Indeed, there are 10s of questions you could be asking to these ‘open’ projects or products, and none of these is within the bounds of the open source software license; they are in the small print or what’s known as the governance model.

We ‘ve long been tracking the who’s who of mobile open source; what’s most interesting is how the popular open source projects (Android, Symbian, LiMo et al) map in terms of the spectrum of licenses and governance models. We ‘ve done that as part of our training course, and you can peek at the summary in the next chart:

licenses-vs-governance-models-21

The picture that emerges is one where :
– open source licenses (the large print that covers source control) are widely used, converged and well understood, while
– governance models (the small print that governs product control) are proprietary, diverging and poorly understood

Governance models can be simplified to indicate the democracy of influence on an open source product; on one end of the spectrum are autonomous communities where opinion leaders influence the direction of the product (see Linux), while on the other end are single-sponsor communities where the product roadmap is influenced by a single company.

In reality, things are much more complicated. There have been many attempts at classifying governance models (most notably the work of West and O’Mahony), but there is really no universal dictionary, no certification body, and an excessive amount of  ‘openness’ marketing hype to help obscure rather than enlighten the mobile industry.

Governance models are in effect multi-dimensional; how do you control access to a product, determine influence mechanisms, or manage IP rights? Here’s a few questions you should be asking to assess the openness of a product’s governance model (in particular, think Android, Symbian and LiMo when asking these questions):
– Are code check-ins publically accessible (and on a realtime basis) ?
– Is the product roadmap publically available (and how far does it stretch) ?
– Are any of the above accessible to members only ? Are there any fees or contractual commitments (NDAs, etc) required for members?
– Who has access to check-in code (and what is the process for check-ins) ?
– What is the arbitration process in case there is a conflict between two contributions to the source code ?
– Who has the authority to release code and binaries (and how is the release schedule determined)?
– Who gets to decide if a contributed component is optional or mandatory (downstream influence)?
– How is the roadmap formed ? What is the process and who has voting rights ?
– Are IP rights (patents, copyrights, etc) of contributions maintained or automatically transferred?
– Are there any support implications for parties who contribute source code ?
– Are there any safe harbour provisions for contributors to the source code ?

What this industry needs is not more marketing hype, but more education and clarity on governance models, and a benchmark – an openness index – for determining the true transparency of an open source product, and for pushing the corporate sponsors to play fair. We have been quietly working towards developing an openness index and are keen to hear from companies who want to make this happen.

Governance is one of the most understated topics in the ‘open’ mobile industry today, yet one of the most fundamental in the direction where the industry will be taking.

Open is the new Closed. For now.

– Andreas
twitter: @andreascon


So, what’s your open source strategy? What does open source mean and how will it impact your business? Sign up for our open source training course, an intense, one-day crash course into mobile open source, offering 360 degree analysis and insights into every facet and who’s who of mobile open source today. Covering: economics – cultural roots – licenses & patents – business models – governance models – community culture – operating systems – application environments – standards fora – plus 10s of case studies and tools to developing an open source strategy.