Category Archives: Mobile Platforms
New Site Added to the Wap Review Mobile Directory
Jolla's new site uses a responsive design techniques to adapt to all viewport widths. It works well in mobile browsers, including Opera Mini, that can handle the site's rather heavy pages.
Jolla Ltd., headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, is developing mobile devices and the open Sailfish OS based on the MeeGo and Mer open source projects.
Jolla's first handset, which will be released in 2013, will be an affordable device with mass-market appeal that will be fully open to developers and hackers to modify and improve.
At yesterday's Mobile 2.0 conference in San Francisco, Mozilla and Telefónica did a presentation of the soon to be released Firefox OS. Formerly known as Boot 2 Gecko (B2G), Firefox OS is a smartphone operating system optimized for relatively low end hardware and targeted at customers in developing economies.
Mozilla demonstrated the OS on a prototype phone with an 800 Mhz single core ARM processor. I got a little hands on with the phone, and performance seemed quite good. Apps launched quickly and swiping between home screens was smooth and fluid. The images above and below show some of the screens and apps, which seem quite attractive to my eye.
The Firefox OS ecosystem will include an appstore. There were be an app submission process and apps will have to meet certain quality guidelines to be accepted. Mozilla will keep an as yet unspecified percentage of app sales. There will also be a payment API for in app purchases but developers are free to handle payments themselves or using 3rd party payment platforms.
Multinational mobile operator Telefónica is backing the Firefox OS project by providing development resources and will also launch the first Firefox OS phone in Brazil in "early 2013". The phones will sell for the equivalent of $100 USD unsubsidized. Telefonicia has not revealed who will be manufacturing the phones for the Brazil launch. However, TCL Alcatel and ZTE have both announced that they intend to build Firefox OS devices.
Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia and Telenor are also backing FireFox OS. Mozilla expects Firefox OS phones to be available in one European and three other Latin American countries shortly after the Brazilian release. At least one Chinese operator is also said to be interested in Firefox OS.
Brazil was chosen for the initial release partly because it has a low rate of both smartphone adoption and PC use. Telefonicia sees Firefox OS as giving many Brazilians their first access to the web and expects the devices to be popular.
An inexpensive smartphone with good performance and a fast and capable browser sounds great in theory but I have some concerns about the cost of data. Proxy browsers like Opera Mini, Nokia's S40 browser and the UC Browser are popular with users in emerging economies because they reduce data consumption by up to 90%. A direct browser like Firefox gives a better user experience but consumes much more data. Telefónica's Wayne Thorsen says that the operator will offer "creative" data options to make using Firefox OS affordable.
If you want to try out Firefox OS, you can run Firefox OS's Gaia UI in Firefox on a PC or build it from source following instructions here and then either run in a emulator or on an actual phone. Supported devices include specific versions of the Samsung Galaxy S II, Samsung Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus.
As an open source proponent with a strong dislike of walled gardens of any kind, I'm excited about Firefox OS. I hope Mozilla is successful in attacting users, operators and hardware vendors to create a viable ecosystem. With iOS and Android so dominant, launching a new mobile OS is going to be an uphill battle, just ask Microsoft. Targetting emerging markets where Android is still weak and Apple doesn't seem interested makes sense.
Google I/O was last week. While I didn't attend, I did follow it closely at a Google I/0 Extended event at Google's San Francisco offices where I watched both keynotes and a number of the tech sessions on the big screen.
The most signifigant announcement of I/0 was the $199.99 (for the 8GB version) Nexus 7 tablet. It out-specs all the other 7 inch tablets in the market by a significant margin. I expect the Nexus 7 will quickly become the best selling Android tablet and possibly the best selling tablet overall. I believe that Google has three main goals for the Nexus 7:
To help Android top Apple's tablet market share and become the dominant computing platform in the world. The iPad currently owns 60% of the tablet market, in spite of being a premium priced product. Market share leadership is a meaningless symbolic victory, but given Apple's all out legal war against Android, I think Google would like to be able to claim that Android is the popular favorite. Plus big sales mean lots more traffic and targeting data for Google's cash cow, search advertising.
The Nexus 7 also targets Microsoft desktop dominance. Personal computing is moving from PCs to the post-PC world of tablets and smartphones. The fastest growing market for smart devices is the developing world, where bang for the buck is the driving factor and where free and open Android has a huge cost advantage over anything from Microsoft or Apple.
To gain control of the Android tablet mass market. The Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet and Nook Color, the least expensive quality tablets. account for nearly half of all Android tablet sales. They run modified versions of Android designed to direct users toward paid content from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. This means less revenue and a loss of brand recognition for Google. The Nexus 7 gives users superior hardware and performance plus more choice and flexibility at the same price point. At the same time it promotes Google's vision of an a relatively open computing platform that serves users, society and innovation while giving Google the data it needs to deliver more targeted, and thus more effective and profitable advertising.
Provide a consistent, high volume pure Google Android experience. Mobile operators and device manufactures hamstring Android by blocking upgrades, adding bloatware and diluting the user experience with custom skins. It's significant that the Nexus 7 is a Wi-Fi only device sold direct to consumers by Google. Google is in complete control of the hardware and software, including updates. The Nexus 7 and it successors gives Google a showcase for Android and all Google services, present and future.
To summarize, the Nexus 7's delivers a near state of the art post-PC computing platform at very a low price point. It and its inevitable successors are intended to sell in huge volumes globally and make Android the dominant personal computing platform.
It's been a year of change and uncertainly for the Qt community in general and Qt mobile developers in particular. The year started rather badly with Nokia's infamous Feb 11th announcement that it was sunsetting Symbian and MeeGo in favor of Windows Phone. Nokia had been promoting Qt as the development framework of choice for both platforms. With Symbian and MeeGo going away mobile development with the framework was increasingly looking like a dead end.
Then Nokia announced that it was selling its commercial Qt licensing business to the relatively unknown Digia. Nokia's moves led to fears that the company would abandon Qt completely. Those fears were largely put to rest when Nokia announced in June that Qt would be a core component of its mysterious "web for the next billion" initiative which aims "to connect the next billion people and bring them affordable access to the Internet and applications."
Qt Dev Days provided an opportunity to judge Nokia's commitment to the framework as well the mood of the Qt community in the wake of this year's changes.
Based on what I saw and heard this week at Dev Days Nokia is throwing more support than ever behind the Qt. Nokia is the lead sponsor of Developer Days which is held twice a year and the majority of the development and maintenance of the open source LGPL version of Qt is still done by Nokia employees. To further encourage and enable mobile development Nokia gave out N9s to half the Dev Days attendees (everyone with a red dot on their badge), chosen at random just as it had done at the Munich Dev Days in October.
Qt as a platform is much more than just Nokia and seems stronger than ever. In his keynote presentation, Richard Kerris, Nokia's new Global Head of Developer Relations announced Qt SDK downloads this year had hit 2 million, the most ever by a wide margin. In another keynote, RIM's George Staikos enthused about Qt and detailed how RIM has made Qt a core component of the new BBX OS used in the Playbook tablet and soon in BlackBerry phones. Then Canonical's Jono Bacon explained how Ubuntu is using Qt for its next generation Unity desktop environment and how it will play a major role in Canonical's Ubuntu Mobile OS for tablets and phones, currently in development.
Qt is not just for mobile. In fact the majority of its deployment is in PC and embedded software. The exhibition hall at Dev Days was full of companies showing off Qt based products like TV set top boxes, in-flight, home and automotive entertainment systems, interactive point of sale displays and medical equipment.
A couple of sessions showed how Qt's "write once, deploy everywhere" mantra has been expanded with new QtCreator plugins for Android and iOS.
Cutehack's Espen Riskedal @snowpong showed off his new Android plugin for QtCreator called Necessitas, which looks very polished and production ready. It includes a Qt Smart Installer clone called Ministro that resolves Qt library dependencies as part of an app's install. There are already several apps in the Android Market built with Necessitas.
There are actually two iOS plugins. Unlike Necessitas, both are rather bleeding edge at this point. UIkit lighthouse from Nokia's Eike Ziller is open source but limited (single window, no multitouch). Ian Dean's commercial QT4iOS or qt-ios-plaszma, is more complete. Building and packaging an app with it does involve a number of manual steps and the use of both QTCreator and Apple's XCode IDE. However it does work and Ian has gotten as far as submitting his first Qt app to Apple. There isn't any documentation yet, but Ian promises to post a readme on the project site in a few days and his Dev Days slides are are now available on Slideshare.
I'm especially excited about Nokia's next billion strategy. Bringing the Web and apps to users in the developing world will enable new learning, earning and comunication opportunities to those who need them the most. It's good business too and should give Nokia a strong competitive advantage in markets with tremendous growth potential.
At this point It's not clear what platform the "next billion" phones will run on. Nokia isn't saying but Symbian and MeeGo are out of question and Windows Phone doesn't support Qt. When it was first announced I assumed that the next billion phones would use an enhanced version of S40, Nokia's feature phone RTOS. But in response to a question at the Dev Days welcome address, Nokia's Kenny Mathers said that the next billion platform was not S40. So what is it then? To me the strongest possibilities are;
- A lightweight Qt based UI and application platform running on top of a stripped down Linux kernel
- A similar Qt UI platform but running on an new version of Windows Phone that is optimized to run on low end hardware
As an open source advocate my heart is with a Linux based platform. It's very doable. As early as 2003 Motorola was selling Linux based phones in Asia, like the A760 and the Ming, which used Trolltech's Qtopia Qt based mobile UI running on very limited hardware. The entire OS was under 32 MB in size and ran in only 16 MB of RAM on a 200 Mhz CPU. These are the sort of hardware specs that are found in today's feature phones.
However, the reality is that today Nokia is a Microsoft partner. I suspect the next billion platform will use Microsoft core technology. Windows Phone is likely to support Qt before long. There were plenty of hints and rumors of that at Dev Days. But Windows Phone Mango or Apollo require too many resources to run on the $20 - $50 phones that dominate the next billion market. Instead I envision a new "Windows Phone Lite" built, like Windows Phone 7, on top of Microsoft's venerable Windows CE (now called "Windows Embedded Compact"). Stripped to it's bare essentials, Windows CE's hardware requirements are as low or lower than Linux's. It already supports Qt making it a logical fit for a new Qt Quick enabled platform from Microsoft's biggest partner.