Forum Nokia's Purnima Kochikar's open letter to developers

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Purnima Kochikar, Nokia Vice President with responsibility for Forum Nokia, has released an open letter to Nokia's developers, which looks to reinforce Nokia's recent messages about the continued importance of Symbian and Qt. The letter offers some details on upcoming updates that will aim to make the Symbian platform more competitive and notes that Symbian devices will continue to be sold long after Nokia's Windows Phone device shipments start.

None of the messages should come as any surprise; the letter offers a condensed form of the announcements that Nokia has already made. However, it does suggest that Nokia is looking to respond to some of the commentary that has appeared in the wake of the strategy announcements, with a particular focus on the uncertainty around support for, and commitment to, Symbian and Qt.

We have summarised the key points of the letter below and added some additional detail. The original letter is quoted at the bottom of this story.

Hardware and software updates for Symbian

The letter notes that there are additional Symbian based products on the way with 1 GHz+ processors and faster graphics. This mostly likely refers to the ST Ericsson U8500 with Mali graphic co-processor), which would represent a different hardware family to the current Symbian^3 devices (based on Broadcom BCM2727).

In addition, software updates to the user experience will be delivered 'this summer' (PR 3.0), which will include a new homescreen, new flexible widgets (flexible sizing and additional functionality), new iconography and fonts, a faster browser (based on QtWebKit), a new nav bar (command buttons along the bottom of the screen, similar to the plans for Symbian^4), a thinner status bar with pull-down options, and updates to the look and feel of Ovi Store and Ovi Maps.

The update will be delivered over the air using the existing SW Update alert mechanism. The update mechanism itself is likely to be updated to be more intuitive and user friendly. The letter does not guarantee further updates, but does imply that additional updates might be delivered later in 2011 or in 2012 (presumably as PR 3.x or PR 4.0).

New Symbian UI

Slide from Nokia presentation in China, which gave some details on the new UI. Source:

The summer software update (PR 3.0) is in addition to the PR 2.0 update that is expected to arrive within the next month or so. The PR 2.0 update includes a new version of the browser with an updated UI and improved rendering (but, in contrast to the summer update, is based on the Symbian C++ WebKit code line) and a portrait QWERTY keyboard. The recently announced Nokia Astound (a US version of the Nokia C7) will ship with PR 2.0 when it goes on sales in the first week of April. All existing and future Symbian^3 devices will receive both updates.

Support for Symbian

In the letter it is made clear that Symbian will be supported for a long time to come. There will be significant differences between markets. Different markets demand different types of devices at different price levels. Symbian is the dominant operating system in more countries than any other platform (mainly because of its support for low cost devices) and is likely to remain in this position for some time to come. The switch to Windows Phone devices in Western European and North American markets is likely to be relatively rapid, but in other markets it will take longer.

Localisation (language support) is a good example of why this will happen. In general, users want to use user interfaces in their native language. Windows Phone currently supports 5 languages, with support for 14 additional languages being added later this year; by contrast, Nokia supports around 60 languages on the Symbian platform.

The reality is that Nokia will continue to sell Symbian devices while there is still demand for them. Putting an end point date on this is difficult, with market variables, competitor performance, impact of planned Symbian updates and consumer subjectivity all being important factors. As a minimum, Symbian device sales will continue into 2015, with device usage an additional 5-10 years beyond that. However, it is also possible that these periods could both be lengthened significantly.


Qt investments 

The letter says that Qt remains 'critically important' for Nokia and that the company is committed to further investments and ongoing support for the cross platform developer framework. Qt remains the primary development environment for both MeeGo and Symbian. This includes updates to Qt (e.g. 4.8 is expected to bring full HTML 5 support and Qt Quick components; future updates include improved graphics - Qt Scene Graph - and modularisation) and Qt Mobility APIs (e.g. 1.2 brings NFC and Bluetooth connectivity; 1.3 brings Heartbeat API and improvements to service integration).

In addition, there are plans for a number of developer-related APIs and services, including app analytics (from the Motally acquisition), in-app advertising, in-app purchasing (now live in Ovi Store), a new browser (see above, which will deliver HTML 5 capability) and hardware enhancements (e.g. NFC in Qt Mobility APIs). The Symbian software updates outlined above will also, in large part, be achieved using Qt.

The letter also notes that Nokia is continuing to 'explore Qt for use in other strategic investment areas'. This is likely to include an evaluation of Qt on Series 40 (resource constraints are an issue here), but may also include tablets and other consumer electronic products (e.g. Qt is an important part of Terminal Mode).

Taken as a whole, Nokia says that this means investment in Qt is a 'safe choice for skill competency, monetisation opportunities' and accessing Nokia's millions of customers.

Second and third strategy pillars 

The letter also highlights Nokia other strategy pillars: Series 40 ("connecting the next billion") and MeeGo ("disruptive technologies").

There is little detail on Nokia's MeeGo plans, reflecting the recent dramatic and unexpected step-change. The company has said it plans to use it to explore disruptive technologies as they emerge, without offering any further detail. Nokia has said that it will release its first MeeGo device this year. The device is likely to be a slate form factor smartphone, running Harmattan (a hybrid of MeeGo and Maemo), with a release date in the next few months. Beyond this, the picture is much less clear, but additional detail may emerge later this year. A MeeGo-based tablet remains a possibility. However, the tablet definition may be too narrow; in general, Nokia believes that the space between smartphones and computers is very immature, with a great deal of unrealised potential.

Series 40 will receive a significant investment boost, with continued software updates and new tools and services for developers (e.g. the recent announcement of free Java signing). It is clear that Series 40 will be stretched upwards with the line between smartphone and featurephone becoming ever more blurred.

An area of particular interest is the browser where a proxy-based solution will enabled web-as-a-platform technologies to be added to Series 40. This will be done through Ovi Browser, a proxy-enhanced browser (similar to Opera Mini), which is built on top of WebKit.

Open letter to developers

Here's the full text of the letter, quoted from Forum Nokia:

Dear Nokia Developer,

Much has been said in the last few weeks about Nokia’s announced strategy. I’ve heard from many of you with encouragement, concerns and questions. Please do continue the dialog with me and the Forum Nokia team.

I want to take a moment to focus on what these announcements mean to you, how Nokia plans to support your development needs and how this translates into opportunities today and in the future.

First, let’s recap what it is we announced; the three main areas of our strategy:

  1. Plans for a broad strategic partnership with Microsoft on Windows Phone
  2. Connecting the Next Billion
  3. Future disruptive technologies

What about Symbian? What about Qt?

Understandably, these are the first questions that come to mind. Although Windows Phone will become our primary smartphone platform, we will continue to deliver a great deal of value from Symbian. We’re making investments that will help us to engage and attract existing and new Symbian users and allow us to launch new competitive smartphones.

Over the past weeks we have been evaluating our Symbian roadmap and now feel confident we will have a strong portfolio of new products during our transition period – i.e. 2011 and 2012. These devices will take advantage of the strong integration of devices and services as well as our strength in areas such as imaging and location-based services. They will also include improvements in hardware performance such as GHz+ processing capabilities and faster graphics speeds.

To further enhance the competitiveness of these products we will deliver updates to the current Symbian user experience. The first major update will arrive in summer, delivering a new home screen, new flexible widgets, new icons, a faster browser, new Navbar and a fresh look and feel to Ovi Store and Ovi Maps, including integration of social media services in Ovi Maps.

You may have seen some of these updates in the latest product we launched at CTIA Wireless this year, the Nokia C7 Astound.  Those plus the rest of the enhancements will be delivered to all users over the air in a simple update available from the Home Screen, and Nokia Astound users will receive the remaining enhancements not already in their device at the same time.

I’ve been asked many times how long we will support Symbian and I’m sure for many of you it feels we have been avoiding the question.  The truth is, it is very difficult to provide a single answer. We hope to bring devices based on Windows Phone to market as quickly as possible, but Windows Phone will not have all language and all localization capabilities from day one.  

In many markets, including markets where Symbian is currently the lead smartphone platform with significant market share such as China, India, Russia and Turkey, we will continue to make our Symbian portfolio as competitive as possible while we work with Microsoft to introduce Windows Phone. For that reason certain markets will play a more significant role in selling the 150 million Symbian devices than others and we will be selling devices long after Windows Phone devices from Nokia have already started to appear in other markets. That is why we cannot give you the date when Symbian will no longer be supported. 

What I can promise you is that we will not just abandon Symbian users or developers.  As a very minimum, we have a legal obligation, varying in length between countries, to support users for a period of time after the last product has been sold.  Our intention is that when users come to the end of the natural lifecycle of their Symbian device they will make the change to a Nokia Windows Phone device and so it would not be in our interests to undermine their Nokia smartphone experience.  Operators have also been very supportive in their commitment to help us continue to sell and support Symbian devices while we make the transition to Windows Phone.  We currently stand at 109 operators in 34 countries and no doubt they continue to recognize the opportunities in a platform that has great localization, differentiation and flexible billing services, while we start to build great new devices with Microsoft.

Qt, the development platform for Symbian and future MeeGo technology remains critically important and Nokia is committed to investment in Qt as the best toolset for those platforms and we are focusing on future developments in part by our plan to divest the commercial licensing business, used mainly by developers of embedded and desktop applications beyond the mobile market. 

Additionally we are readying app analytics, in-app advertising, in-app purchasing, a new browser and hardware enhancements. There are a lot of new things for developers to take advantage of in these soon-to-be-released APIs. We are continuing to explore Qt for use in other strategic investment areas as well. 

So in short, there are some very exciting things happening in Symbian and Qt, lots of new devices and platform improvements and we believe consumers will be downloading great developer apps from these devices. All together, this means your investment in Qt is a safe choice for skill competency, monetization opportunities and brand awareness amongst our millions of users.

The partnership announcement has many of you wondering how Forum Nokia and Microsoft will support you in the future. As we carefully plan this with Microsoft we will be able to share more information. However, we are listening to your concerns and comments. Nokia and Microsoft share a view and commitment to make the transition as smoothly as possible for developers. 

The second pillar of Nokia’s strategy, ‘Internet for the Next Billion’ also highlights our increased focus on opportunities for developers, especially Java developers. Nokia sells over one million features phones a day; a staggering number by any measure. Developers can already distribute Java apps to approximately 600 million Series 40 devices.

We intend to drive more innovation and improvement in Series 40 developer engagement. We are continuing to develop easy-to-use tools and software developer kits to make it simple, easier and more affordable for Java developers to work with us. For example, there is free signing for Java apps; the new SDK for Touch and Type UI is in the market now; plus we have plans for increased proxy browsing capabilities on our device and support for web apps.

Consumers around the world are hungry for apps on Nokia devices.

The disruptive technologies area of our strategy includes our work on MeeGo and Nokia Research Center, Nokia’s future looking, global labs. You will hear more from us on MeeGo in coming months.

Finally, there is still $10M up for grabs in the Calling All Innovators contest. The deadline is approaching – 31 March – so be sure to submit your app. If the content of your app is applicable to consumers in the U.S. and Canada, you could get a piece of the $10M in cash and prizes. Giving out these big checks and seeing your apps get downloaded by millions of consumers is the best part of my job!

In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to update you on our progress with Symbian, Windows Phone and Series 40 and new programs to assist you in building success in Ovi Store. We are excited about working with you in each of these areas. In the meantime, we’ll look for your next great Qt or web app in Ovi Store!

Best regards,

Purnima Kochikar
Vice President, Forum Nokia