Nokia Should Switch to Mac OS X

A little different from my recent posts, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks now believe it or not. Nokia should switch to Mac OS X.

OK, I don’t mean they should switch their phones over to running Mac OS X, nor for that matter even their new netbooks. I mean they should switch their application development environment from Windows to Mac OS X.

Why?

Aside from it simply being a much, much better platform to use for development in general, it is also the platform that a large number of mobile application developers already use. Over 125,000 registered mobile app developers out there today are using the Mac platform to write apps for the iPhone platform. The majority of those developers are not going to think of switching to a Windows box to develop on. If Nokia wants to court some of them into developing for its smartphones too, it needs to have a development environment that runs under Mac OS X.

XCode or Eclipse

It doesn’t matter as much as the platform choice, but plugging into XCode as well would certainly make the process more familiar to iPhone developers.

What really matters though is that the tools are simple to install, run smoothly and allow for rapid development (including simple, fully operational device debugging).

Nokia’s tools people need to spend a few days working with the iPhone SDK and getting a feel for how smooth the development process is. (OK, I know the certificate stuff isn’t great, but it is still integrated into the build process, and the newer releases of XCode have made it a little easier to deal with.) Then make sure the Nokia platform is as simple to use, no matter what tools it is based on. This is about a complete system.

S60 or Maemo

While we’re talking about cleaning things up, S60 has gone beyond its useful life. I used an N95 for two years from when they first came out, and believe me that was already stretching S60 beyond breaking point. The newer phones are being seriously let down by S60.

If Nokia could just accept that Symbian is dead, and move their vast momentum behind Maemo, a platform they’ve been developing and proving in the field for several years now, but still don’t have the courage to stand behind 100%, they’d actually have a platform that could compete with Android for sure, and perhaps even Apple.

There are some simple rules for success here though (and something that Android is already failing on):

  • Own your platform. Define it, and keep it consistent. You can mix up the peripherals a little, but keep the screen size the same, and make sure the OS abstracts the interface to things like keyboards so no matter what the hardware supports, the apps don’t need to change.
  • Simple, clean UI. Given where we are now, it is going to be a touch screen interface, so design it as such. Don’t worry about the existing S60 apps – they’re history. Make it clean and simple for all the exciting new apps.
  • Powerful APIs.Let me use things like the network, the location services and the maps without having to jump through hoops, several times, with my hands tied behind my back.
  • Single API.While the APIs need to let me access the full power of the device (and this is the iPhone’s achilles heal), there should also be just one API for each function. KISS matters.

A clean, standard, C++ API based on the Trolltech technologies, and a solid, secure OS like Linux would make a very solid platform.

What About the S60 Apps?

What about them? The folks developing apps for the S60 are going to move on. They’ve probably already moved on – to iPhone or Android. The rest will happily follow.

This idea that you can’t disturb the value chain is nonsense. Even the name implies that: it is a chain, attached to a leader. Where the leader goes, the chain follows. It is how they make money. And realistically what are the alternatives? They’re going to have to change platform regardless, why change more than you need to.

Stimulus

Perhaps this quarter’s massive losses at Nokia will be enough to shock them into activity. The saddest part of all of this is that they have been sitting on the answer to many of the issues with their smartphone platform since before the iPhone and Android were even players in the space. Ironically, they’re also the one company that should feel completely comfortable backing a Linux solution: it is, after all, a Finnish OS.

If, even after all these years with Maemo, FOSS issue is a problem though, how about using NetBSD or licensing a true microkernel like QNX Neutrino? Trolltech’s UI would run on both of those very easily (one of my last demo projects at Wind River was to port the open source version of Trolltech’s code to run under VxWorks AE – it was a simple port, and ran very well).

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