Fragmentation within mobile platforms helps handset manufacturers and software developers to properly address customers' needs, a senior Nokia executive has said.
Sebastian Nystrom, the vice president of Nokia Qt Software, said on Tuesday that companies working on mobile platforms should "embrace focused fragmentation" because, "if you want to build a better device or offer a better service than anyone else, you need to differentiate".
"Inside any specific market, if you offer the same product as your competitors the only thing you can compete on is price," Nystrom told delegates at the Open Source In Mobile 09 conference in Amsterdam. "[Differentiating gives you] the opportunity to be better, and to have a higher sale price or margin".
"If you avoid fragmentation at all costs, youre limiting the opportunity to engage with consumers and offer them something new," he added.
Nokia is currently developing two open-source mobile platforms: Symbian and Maemo. Symbian is a proprietary operating system that is in the process of being open-sourced, whereas Maemo is a lightweight Linux distribution that, in Nystrom's words, is the result of Nokia "pulling together different open source components in the way open source has always flourished".
According to Rob Taylor of the open-source consultancy Codethink, Nystrom was right to say that fragmentation can be preferable to a unified code-base because "you can [work with] an old platform that's stable... but you won't be able to do much that's very interesting with it". However, Taylor said, mobile open-source suffers from poor levels of collaboration, which causes too much fragmentation.
"Fragmentation is worse in mobile [than in PCs] because most manufacturers are new players in open source and dont understand benefits of collaboration, such as less fragmentation," Taylor said. "The problem comes in when you can't start the discussion, so the only option is to start again. I keep saying to manufacturers, 'you've got to have this clear line in the sand — the guys working in open source have to know what they can and can't talk about, and have to talk about enough to interact successfully in the community'."
Taylor said that Nokia are good at collaboration "to some degree, but the rest of the guys not-so-much". He explained that most manufacturers tend to interact through forums such as the LiMo Foundation, but such levels of collaboration are not enough to let them see all the available options that can come through open source.
"They still have the fundamental problem of what they can and can't talk about," Taylor said.