Google Android vs. Nokia Series 60 – what would it take to build a better mobile phone?

Android The long awaited Google phone turned out to be just an OS. What does it mean for us, mobile software developers?

Personally, I think this is great news. An open mobile platform is something that was long due to stir up the world of RIM-Windows-Symbian.

Android managed to get many things right from the very beginning, things that took several years for S60. While S60 initially took Microsoft-style approach to development community – with multi-level support, exclusive club membership with access to the source code, signing and licensing, Android is quite open and democratic.

When Google announced Android SDK – my first thoughts were – it’s a smart move to release SDK before devices are available. Google’s name alone would be enough to attract developers and hackers to this new platform, so they can create a developer community by the time devices are shipping. Then Google announced developer challenge with $10mln in awards.


Who wouldn’t like to try? And we didn’t have to wait long for examples. Moscow-based startup company Sadko announced Android application CallFreq – a smart dialer application.

Ukranian software house OreDale offers to implement your ideas for Android developer challenge for a reasonable compensation.

Android freeware directory already features 21 application.

What is it that I liked so much about Android? Mostly things that I complained about in Symbian/S60.

  • SDK

On November 12th, 2007 when first Android SDK release appeared on the web I downloaded and installed it on my Linux machine. Size of the SDK was more that reasonable – 54Mb. Emulator startup was fast. There were plenty of sample applications illustrating APIs. Installing Android plugin for Eclipse was simple. Debugging and tracing tools were also in the pack.

Unfortunately developing for S60 in Linux is still not an easy ride. S60 v3 FP1 SDK for Windows is 354Mb, which still might be a problem if you don’t have fast internet.

  • Developer support

Google got Android developer support under control from the very beginning – forums, blogs, online SDK documentation, API examples, application examples, video tutorials, – all on http://code.google.com/android.

  • Software development – learning curve

If you ever developed for Symbian OS, you know that you have to learn a lot of new stuff – what are the basic types in C++, how to work with strings, how to implement multithreading, how client/server works, how Symbian database management system works, etc. Unfortunately entry barrier for Symbian development is high.

Android, even though it is a Linux based OS, has chosen Java as the main programming language and Sqlite as DBMS solution. If you know Java, you can start coding for Android already today.

I wrote about issues related to software development on S60 platform in “Do we really have a mobile development platform?“.

Nokia has taken several steps in order to make development for S60 easier and lower the entry barrier – such as Open C and Python.

But as Michael Mace writes in his “Google, the OS company blogpost about Android impact on Symbain“It’s not fun competing against a free product that’s been subsidized by one of the richest companies in the world (just ask Netscape).”

  • Security and openness

I wrote about S60/Symbian platform security issues in “Symbian OS Platform Security – good or evil?“.

Android’s approach to security is along the lines – let the user decide. Application defines which permissions it requires – and user grants these permissions when the application is installed on the device.

Let’s see what it turns out to be in the real world – in “At application install time, permissions requested by the application are granted to it by the package installer, based on checks with trusted authorities and interaction with the user.” statement “trusted authorities” is a subject for concern.

  • Developer perspective

I can recommend an excellent artile by John Lombardo “A developer’s perspective on Google’s Android” that describes first-time user (developer) experience with Android.

  • Consumer perspective

From a consumer perspective Android appears to be a well designed platform that can be easily extended. At the moment it has less default applications than S60 platform, but firstly, that will be compensated by 3rd party developers (especially since “all applications are equal” idea is core to Android ideology), and secondly, Android provides a powerful browser based on Apple’s WebKit browser engine (same as used in iPhone and newer S60 phones), which would allow users take advantage of all internet services offered by Google.

  • Open Handset Alliance

Open Handset Alliance established by Google caused a mixed reaction from Nokia.

Helsingin Sanomat wrote that: ” Nokia feels that Android, a mobile telephony alliance announced on Monday by Google, is unnecessary because Nokia has already been doing nearly everything that the alliance is just talking about. Nokia says that its S60 platform, which is based on its own Symbian operating system, is the best and most workable foundation for Internet services of mobile telephones”.

On the other hand Kari Tuutti, spokesman for Nokia Multimedia, said that Nokia joining Open andset Alliance is not ruled out at all.

Conclusion:

Android is a new guy on the block, and it is not all roses. It still has to survive the harsh reality of hardware products manufactuing world and maintaining API compatibility between versions and devices in order to establish itself as a real platform. Because of the Apache license used for Android SDK “applications designed to be compatible with Google’s platform could be made incompatible with a particular device, by a handset vendor who removes core Android APIs and replaces them with their own closed source alternative“.

Integration with the real hardware can bring more surprises than anticipated by a company with software background. So I wouldn’t count on seeing first Android devices earlier than Christmas 08.

Google got many things right and made a very good start. Android looks quite promising, and Google seems to be quite serious about making it world leading mobile platform. At the same time Nokia has an established platform, a huge base of S60 devices already on the market and talented S60 R&D team.

Year 2008 promises to be very interesting.

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6 thoughts on “Google Android vs. Nokia Series 60 – what would it take to build a better mobile phone?”

  1. The one thing you forgot to mention is the fact that S60 has a licencing fee while Android doesn’t. That is the biggest thing in terms of impact to the OEM’s building hardware. Now granted, free doesn’t exist, integration costs and all that, but in the long run it does save money and that will mean a huge increase in the number of Android running devices out there on the market. First thing is first, let us wait until the first Android running device ships.

  2. Ivan,

    Nice article, we need more of similar comparisons. However, I have some comments to it.

    First of all, I agree with Stefan that we have to wait and see the first devices. What they will offer, how usable they will be and at what price. We can’t talk about too much at this very moment just knowing the first version of Android.

    Then I’d like to add the well-known problem of fragmented mobile Linux platform. The most popular variants are supported by different companies and these interest groups are competing with each other. Competition is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is too many times. Let’s see how the newcomer (i.e. Android) will fit in to the system.

    Even though the licensing model of Android (Apache v2) might be tempting for manufacturers, but I suspect it’ll lead to more fragmentation. Why? Licensees of the platform will not have to inject their changes back to the common codebase, but make their own variants. Consequently, developers will have to take care of the peculiarities of each variant. Please note that the same problem would be present in Symbian (and actually it is) if S60 was not too dominant.

    Finally, let’s not applaud the security system of Android, but wait and see how the average user will cope with annoying dialogs asking irritating questions, like “Would you like to grant this and that permission to the application being installed?” Everyone can imagine whom these users will blame if their phones become useless – since “… an Android application can do anything”.

    Briefly, I can see lots of positive signs, but some warnings, too. Let’s wait! 🙂

  3. Nokia the world laregest cellphone manufacturer with a 47.9 percent stake in Symbian, the leading mobile platform that it co-founded in 1998 and which today powers some 206 million mobile phones. Nokia now planing to shift the technology goals from symbian to linux.

    The mobile-phone maker is increasingly selecting Linux for Internet-enabled mobile devices, with its CFO declaring of Linux, \

  4. Nokia and Google are both positioning for the next generation of communications that will center or be held together by NG wireless glue – WiMAX and LTE as they head down the evolutionary path to 4G/IMT-Advanced.

    What compels both their top level moves such as acquisitions and development of mapping and location based services, and the rolling out or new (Android) or revamped and opened up development platforms (Symbian), is the vision of \’personal broadband everywhere\’. that is not the same thing as the present state of mobile phones for several reasons (although it might have been argued that the mobile phone industry would have eventually arrived at the same point on its own – maybe 50 years after we were all dead! ;^); 1) Devices and development platforms and content will be driven to become less jointed at the hip. Devices will become more like what you see for PC, networks, and some areas of consumer electronics – more a \’write once, use many\’ development environment not atached a supplier of handsets. 2) Device types will vary from all-in-one mobile devices to embedded consumer products, to Mobile Internet Device, MID, class portables, to specialty devices. The development community will increasingly leverage across these devices with much less hassle and cost. 3) Operators will derive more of the revenue and much more of their profits from services aimed at customers that run on top of all IP (AIP) communications platforms. That renders mobile devices part of the Internet rather than its own realm with its own cloistered walled gardens.

    Nokia has said in analyst briefings that they intend to morph the company from having 80% of revenues from handset and other hardware/systems sales to becoming 60% based on services revenues. That is a very dramatic shift for any business (or thought of on a personal level, for any individual\’s career). The multiple billion$ they have spent on acquisitions and development of new services oriented capabilities comes into focus when considered as part of their collosal long range plan.

    What compels Nokia, Google, and even, to a clumsy degree, Microsoft and others, is the vision of personal broadband in which the user is the center of the stage rather than the itsy-bitsy squinty eyed mobile phone device.

  5. The touch interface for Nokia’s S60 platform is certainly as nice looking as plain old S60, but it just didn’t seem to go far enough. Sure, we tried scrolling through lists with our finger, and using gestures to move between images in the gallery, but seriously, Nokia, have you tried the iPhone? Of course, S60 is a massive platform, so perhaps Nokia had to design a touch interface for the mid-range, instead of only the flagship N-series phones. But just as they’ve added and improved to the media interface on the N-series phones, we hope that the S60 touch interface is adaptable enough.

    Pros: Touch on an S60, just like folks have been asking for. Still looks stylish and colorful.

    Cons: Doesn’t come close to the iPhone’s slick interface. Touch features seem shallow, we want to see much more.

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