Symbian's research chief on going open source

Summary:How do you open up a closed codebase? Symbian research chief David Wood tells about potential and practicality, and the promise of multicore phones

...Symbian 9.5 to our customers, and there is considerable progress on the next two releases, which you can imagine might be called 9.6 and 9.7. At some stage, they will fall into the new numbering system that will be used for the Symbian Foundation.

What will that numbering system look like?
It's still being discussed. I quite like the idea of staying at 9 forever, because it emphasises compatibility. But the key thing is: there are two more releases for which we have a roadmap.

The main core feature for the next releases is twofold. One of them is support for symmetrical multiprocessing (SMP), which we believe is going to be really important for the future. That comes out in two phases: in the release after 9.5 we've made all the software SMP-safe, which means it won't fall over if there are suddenly more processors in there; and the one afterwards is called SMP-optimised, which is when we actually restructure some of the software to run better when there are multiple cores. That will be the software that lands on phones with multiple cores, sometime around 2010.

What is the point in having SMP on a handset?
It will allow the phone to do more without running the batteries to the same extent, because the individual cores will run at a lower clock speed. It turns out, if you have two cores running at a lower clock speed, you can actually end up calculating more but using less power.

People will use this for all kinds of things; to take one example, real-time language translation. Currently most of the real-time language translation services on smartphones tend to rely on server-side work. So you might speak into it, it might send it off to the network and it comes back with a translation. Now, imagine if you could do more of that kind of calculation on the phone.

Then there's all the multimedia applications. Graphics never get poorer — there are more and more pixels and colours, and all of that requires oomph from the processors. If you can spread that out over multiple processors, it delivers a faster user experience and more functionality without running out of battery.

Does Symbian still believe the smartphone will take over from PCs, as it predicted two years ago? The input and display issues remain, and netbooks have come into the picture…
I don't think we ever said PCs would disappear. PCs will remain — there will be a whole host of devices that remain. But [smartphones] will be more capable and people will be more comfortable using that will more and more features. Take the [Nokia E71] — people are often surprised that it is actually quite easy to type into it even though the keys are so small. There's some very clever hardware design in that. It's part of the overall step-by-step improvements in input.

The Nokia Tube has got pen inputs and there's about five different ways people can choose to input data into that. Will all five be equally important? Probably not, but let the market decide which ones will be most important. That will make input easier. Also, because there are more pixels on the screen and the pictures are clearer, people often say they don't need their big screen anymore. Perhaps phones will come in due course with projectors as well.

The other thing is that the new generation will just automatically be comfortable in using these devices for these extra capabilities. They won't think of it as squashing down what they are used to; they will just grow up learning how to use them, and take it for granted.

Topics: Networking


David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

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