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Monday, January 28, 2008

Nokia / Trolltech acquisition - first thoughts

My kneejerk reaction to Nokia's purchase of Trolltech this morning was "Wow, Nokia's just bought a handset Linux OS vendor..... does this mean we'll see S60 on Linux, or a Linux base, or a multi-tasking Linux-based alternative to S40?"

But then I remembered a bit about Trolltech's roots, and the fact that its Linux OS/framework for handsets sits alongside an older business that is more about developer tools. Reading through the press release hints much more about enabling Nokia to assist developers create web-based "applications that work in the Internet" and also run on PCs and (Nokia) phones. "will enable Nokia to accelerate its cross-platform software strategy for mobile devices and desktop applications, and develop its Internet services business"

The more I think about this, the more I realise that Nokia is starting to get into a position where it can leverage its 40% of the handset market, by creating services that don't work as well (or at all) on its competitors' devices, except at the top end where they have full-spec browsers. This isn't a battle for the smartphone space, but featurephones. Realistically, and future high-end app developer will port across Symbian, WinMob, maybe Apple & Android & BlackBerry - or alternatively, they can run in the browser and exploit the inevitable presence of flat(ish) data plans.

But it's much trickier to do a cross-platform play in the featurephone space. Java is fragmented, browsers are often inadequate, Flash is sparsely supported. Plus, most mid-tier users outside N America & Japan use prepay tariffs with often-poor data availability. This is an Ovi play, and a pitch to offer useful third-party hosted services to mobile operators whose own internal services innovation has been weak. Essentially, Nokia wants to take an aggregation role between software developers (who have cool ideas but no easy way to deal easily with 100's of operators) and the MNOs. This seems to be a similar direction to that taken by Microsoft and especially Google of late.

That said - I'm still curious about when S40 is going to get a proper refresh. I'm increasingly convinced that full multi-tasking capability is mandatory for delivery of 'serious' nextgen IP services, Web 2.0 things like widgets and so forth. Some apps need to run "in the background", while user behaviour means people tend to flip between multiple services.

And another open question is what the platform(s) will be that support these apps - it sounds like Internet / Web-Services based, rather than IMS, for example. Since the spin-off of the infrastructure business to NSN, the handset/software part of Nokia seems to have lost a great deal of enthusiasm for IMS, preferring instead to focus on Web 2.0. It will be interesting to see what happens when Ovi migrates towards session-based services - whether it will pursue a "naked SIP" path, IMS, or something else again.


Varun said...

Nice thoughts Dean,

I wrote something about this deal on my blog

please read and share your views


Hywel said...

Nice comment on where things are at the moment. What do you think of the iPhone's play, where the initial idea was to make sure the browser and net access were sorted (at least in the country the contract was purchased), and then to assume that all services were provided through that. Seems to be changing now that more 'on-handset' applications are coming along. Where do you see this trend going?