Nokia thinks "open"

I’ve had a number of interesting discussions with Nokia staff in the last few weeks and one of the bigger themes to emerge from those discussions is Nokia’s commitment to being more open. In some ways this is a contradiction because Nokia lacks adequate support for operating systems other than Windows and DRM’s its music in its music store. That being said there are reasons for this (and I’ve talked about these issues before) and it is clear that Nokia is placing a lot of emphasis on its open source technologies which it has acquired.

Mark Selby

I had an opportunity to interview Mark Selby when he was out here recently. Mark is Nokia’s Vice President Industry Collaborations. I received a brief bio from Fleishman Hillard’s Lisa Rabbitts:

Mark Selby has responsibility for Nokia’s relationships with external industry, academic, regulatory and citizen organisations in building the ecosystems for next generation mobile applications, services and technologies. A recognized authority on mobility, emerging technologies and convergence, he has worked in the mobile, broadcast and IT industries for over 20 years.

Mark was formerly Vice President, Multimedia, with global responsibility for Nokia’s multimedia experience operations, including Mobile TV, Radio, imaging, audio, video, and Social Media and Networks implementations.

Prior to joining Nokia in May 2004, he was Senior Vice President at IMG Media/TWI, responsible for the group’s mobile activities in sports, entertainment, TV, radio and online, including production, rights and technology. IMG Media/TWI is the largest independent sports TV producer.

Mark was formerly CEO of Mobile Channel Network, which designed, produced and delivered a wide range of mobile services, including Essential Sports, MTV mobile, Big Brother and Mobile Ibiza. He has worked with many rights holders, including Manchester United and Liverpool Football Clubs, the International Rugby Board, the International Olympic Committee, musicians, athletes and models.

Mark’s previous roles include President of Solid Information Technology, Executive Director Health On the Net Foundation, President Internet Society, Geneva, radio producer and presenter at WRG-FM, board member of Linux International and senior executive roles at Digital Equipment Corp. and Xerox. He was appointed Expert to the European Commission on EDI in 1987.

The discussion covered a range of topics (you can hear the audio below and download the audio file here). I particularly enjoyed our discussion about Nokia’s music store and why Nokia incorporated DRM. Mark reiterated that the music industry required Nokia to implement DRM in the music available through the store and that Nokia is committed to going DRM free. The interview is worth listening to. It does run for almost an hour so grab a cup of something and enjoy.

Mark talked about how Nokia has bought the shares in Symbian from its remaining shareholders and is releasing Symbian into the newly created Symbian Foundation, an open source oriented industry association which will govern future developments of the Symbian operating system. As Mark put it, this is the “best demonstration of [Nokia’s] desire to move absolutely to an open … environment” and it is apparently the largest open source initiative to date.

I’d like to thank Mark and Tania Steenkamp from Nokia for this opportunity to chat to him and for his patience. As usual I ran over my allotted time for the interview and Mark just kept talking.

(Note: Mark mentioned that Nokia Maps 3.0 beta is available and I incorrectly said it wasn’t. The software is available here if you want to try it out)

Nokia’s S60/Symbian event on 25 March 2009

Symbian was the focus of Nokia’s S60 event in Sunninghill on 25 March which focussed on future Symbian developments and the much anticipated Nokia Ovi Store. A central theme at the event was Nokia’s commitment to open standards, largely through Symbian.

Nokia bought Symbian and is committed to giving it back to the world through the Symbian foundation. We have seen compatability across S60 versions and we should continue to see this although future Symbian developments will be determined by the Symbian Foundation which Nokia is part of but no longer the single largest driving force.

Nokia is conducting a fair amount of its cross-platform development using Qt which has been incorporated into Nokia’s R&D department. Its purchase was also part of the longer term plan to establish the Symbian Foundation. Nokia changed the license to the LGPL license. Using Qt, developers will be able to port applications to other platforms including Windows, Windows CE, Embedded Linux and Mac OSX using an SDK. Nokia also intends using Webkit as its Web runtime engine more and more. The main focus of Web runtime is widget platform and an example of a widget implementation platform is the N97 which will support widgets on the home screen.

There is a perception of the S60 platform as a dated platform partly due to the UI. I have heard this a number of times and I share this perception, to a degree. We were told that when it comes to the UI, Nokia aims for consistency and familiarity and the implication is that we probably won’t see sudden, radical changes to the UI largely for this reason.

The Ovi store is a business platform. It will contain more than just applications. It will also include video, personalisation, games, audio and flash channels. The store will “learn” from interaction with it and prioritise content you seem to prefer. All the content on the site will be available anywhere except where a country bans certain content and there will be both free and premium content. Nokia is targeting three categories of developers: the “money guys”, “uber techies” and “good samaritans”. Part of the Ovi store, while not an explicit component, is its social capability with community interaction. Developers will take 60% of the price of premium content and will decide on rights and licensing applicable to their apps.

The Nokia guys pointed out that Forum Nokia is probably the best resource for developers. I have posted some of the documents I received in Nokia’s press pack here. Included in there is background information about the Symbian Foundation.

Here is a video I put together from parts of the session:

Lunch with Brad Brockhaug

I was invited to have lunch with Brad Brockhaug, Nokia’s Head of Sub-Saharan Africa, together with a couple journalists, recently. The lunch was one of a number of similar “meet and greets” intended to help him and his team get to know the media better and provide a more open interface for Nokia in South Africa and elsewhere.

Brad Brockhaug

Brad talked about his background and about Nokia’s shift to a services focussed business model. He mentioned that Nokia sees Africa as an opportunity to test new solutions which could be used as models elsewhere. That appeals to me considerably. There are opportunities to leapfrog older technologies in Africa given the right regulatory framework.

He also talked about the importance of leveraging 3rd party developers or key providers on Nokia’s platforms by giving them the tools to develop on those platforms. The focus is more on allowing developers to develop on Nokia’s platforms and then working with operators to provide best consumer experience. Consumers will ultimately decide where to get their services.

Nokia’s Ovi Store is intended to be a more open platform and application store. It replaces Nokia’s Download service which Brad launched about 3 years ago. The Ovi Store is going to be a more controlled and moderated environment than the MOSH service which it will, in some ways, replace. Although the Ovi Store is not live yet, developers can upload their apps to in the meantime. Nokia’s goal is to have about 20 000 apps when the store launches. Nokia is aiming for a more relevant range of options rather than just having a catalogue of applications (there will be a catalogue available if you want it). Location awareness should also form part of the Store’s customisation process.

Brad also talked briefly about the Nokia music experience and the “Comes with Music” service. The Comes with Music service is an unlimited music tied to specific devices. There is no date set for the Comes with Music service just yet. One reason is that Nokia needs to select the right devices. He talked a bit about the complicated process of getting clearance rights from a multitude of rights holders to be able to release music in different countries in the context of the Music Store.

On the whole it is clear that Nokia is aiming to be more open. One thing that continues to impress me is Nokia’s willingness to talk about future developments and products. This is sorely lacking in other organisations like Google and Apple. It certainly makes it easy for me to be a fan of the company and what it is doing. It is also very useful to talk to people like Mark Selby and Brad Brockhaug about the complex issues Nokia has to deal with when it comes to services like the Music Store. I don’t like DRM very much at all but it is a complex issue and I believe Nokia is moving in the right direction.

Disclosure: I should point out that Nokia paid for my fancy lunch with Brad Brockhaug and lets me test out new devices from time to time. I am pretty much treated as media and some of the benefits that go with that. While it is great to have this attention I like to think I retain my objectivity and present the same views I would if I wasn’t treated so well. That being said I am a Nokia fan partly because of what I get to see at Nokia SA.






3 responses to “Nokia thinks "open"”

  1. pauljacobson avatar

    New blog post: Nokia thinks “open”
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. […] been thinking about comments people (including me) have made about the Symbian operating system as it has been implemented in Nokia devices. For my part I have regarded S60 implementation as […]

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