Oh no, not mobile phones again. You see; I’m not that attached to my mobile. I rarely text, I prefer to e-mail. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m pay-as-you-go. I would probably forget to carry one at all if I hadn’t been given a Palm Treo, which I deeply love. After the disappointment of my Palm Tungsten (remember those?) practically snapping in two due its extension mechanism I was almost put off PDAs and now Smart Phones for life. But, grumpy old man syndrome aside; I like what I have now.
So mobiles (or cell phones if you happen to be West of Nova Scotia) then, what can we surmise here? I remember being initially surprised when I heard from the likes of Palm and Orange about their developer networks and code camp events. What were handset manufacturers and network operators doing telling us all about software development? These guys should be concentrating on developing better battery life and connection capabilities shouldn’t they? That’s where I was wrong of course, because central to the way applications are developed in the mobile space are the considerations for how much a piece of software demands of the unit and network it runs on.
With all this in mind, I had the chance this week to get some views from Symbian on the “state of the nation” regarding application development in the Smart Phone space. The always affable Bruce Carney, Symbian’s director of developer programmes and services had some interesting insights to share. Principally, that the main reason Smart Phones need to support a wide choice of development environments is that consumers require different features and functionality from Smart Phone applications, even when they are performing the same task – so we need a good market spread to maximise creativity.
Differentiation is a big driver within the industry right now and it occurs on three levels - in the mobile device, in mobile services and also by consumers themselves. A visible trend driving growth of Smart Phone applications is the emergence of ubiquitous and modernised access. A few years ago the price of data was a severe limitation to business models. Now operators are beginning to embrace flat-rate prices for data. This will change consumer behaviour and stimulate demand.
Let’s move on to multimedia applications, what’s happening here? Nokia N95 users can install applications via WiFi connections. Home networking technology allows seamless synchronisation with PCs and other devices. TV-out allows people to watch Smart Phone videos on their television. Add-on applications such as Internet radio streaming effectively turn the device into a media centre. This is starting to sound pretty good isn’t it?
When it comes to vendor catalogues, the reason that handset vendors have different catalogues of applications to download on each phone is due to segmentation of customers. For example, there are over 100 Symbian Smart Phones and handset manufacturers have a clear idea of who they want to market each phone to (i.e. youth market, business people, music lovers). The product managers will design the application catalogues accordingly.
User experience with regards to screen size is very important and developers are realising this. That’s why rich clients have become so popular. They are tailored to the specifications of the device. It is also why Symbian thinks home networking will grow in popularity; people will take pictures and videos and then consume them on their PC or television.
Users don’t care what language or environment applications are based on, they just care about the experience. Giving them their due, that really is the good thing about Symbian, all applications are treated equally and users can flick between them without even noticing. So when choosing the right development environment there is always a trade-off between functionality and the cost of developing. Java is a good compromise between the two. Developers must look at the market they are targeting and choose the best option.
Are you in the mobile development space? Do you broadly agree with what we’re saying here? What’s the next big revenue driver in mobile applications? I’d say it is location-based services. Do you think different?