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Qt and Nokia, the bigger plan?

Written by Jamie Bennett on July 7th, 2009 at 9:43 pm in Uncategorized

So, it has been announced that Nokia is to adopt Qt as its preferred toolkit for the next-but-one iteration of the Maemo platform, Harmattan. This has stirred up a little developer concern as GTK and C developers contemplate switching to Qt and C++ but is this really warranted? and what are Nokia’s reasons for the switch? Well, it seems that Nokia has no other choice if it wants to continue to compete in a very different world from the one it has dominated for the past several years and here’s why.

Apple

No-one can deny that Apple has completely pushed the boundaries of what the smart phone users of this world expect. They want bling, they want pizazz and most importantly they want it all to work with their PC (or Mac). The iPhone ecosystem ‘just works’. Its pretty robust and offers a rich user interface-come-desktop-tie-in that no other mobile device can compete with at the moment. I met with a very ambitious start-up today that are banking a large proportion of their future business on the iPhone but yet hate the development experience. How can a platform that its developers really don’t like succeed and succeed to the extent that the Apple model does? The development rewards, that’s how!

Although pretty slim, there is a chance that “your cool app (TM)” will succeed in the app store and make you a small fortune and believe it or not, you lottery playing skeptics, this is a big incentive for developers. Nothing else competes with the low barrier for entry and the potential rewards at the moment. The hardware is great, especially the new iPhone S, and the development has the XCode eco-system behind it meaning that, while not straightforward, development is seldom insurmountable.

The down-trade for these riches? You sell your soul to Apple (maybe, I haven’t read through the fine print yet).

The Bigger Threat, Android

Android for me is what has got everyone scared. A free-to-license mobile operating system and SDK with the clout of Google behind it. Its like the 500lb gorilla in the corner that ‘has a pleasant nature’ but it could also rip the head of the mobile industry if it wanted, and oh how I think it wants to in 2010.

Android is the major player here. Apple may have the numbers at the moment but there is a huge amount of people who refuse to buy Apple for one reason or another and for them (some 90% of the desktop population for comparison) they need an alternative. Android will be rolled out in a scale unknown to the mobile industry. I predict that every manufacturer will have an Android based phone by the end of next year, Nokia included, and that pretty rapidly it will become an Android Vs iPhone war for the smart-phone crown. So where does Nokia’s flagship Symbian fit in?

Symbian is a transport mechanism, we sell phones!

Unfortunately for the Symbian guys (and gals) I think Nokia’s transposition to a more service and app based company will leave Symbian behind. The push to bring Qt to Symbian signals Nokia’s intent for a cross-platform ecosystem and the natural progression from this would be to completely take out the hardware below and concentrate on the higher level. Why would Nokia continue to push Symbian, and for that fact Maemo, if they could satisfy their main business objectives on any platform that Qt is available? At the moment that includes everything but the iPhone. The other telling fact is that Nokia are concentrating on bringing Qt to Android.

I believe that Nokia know that they cannot compete with Apple or in fact Google. Google have brought out “the alternative”. Motorola, LG, Samsung and other members from the LiMo Foundation have seen the writing on the wall and have concentrated their efforts on Android instead of their own Linux based solution and while Nokia continue to hold 40% of the mobile phone business, they must be looking at where they fit in for the future generation of mobile users.

Nokia’s willingness to port Qt to any and every platform gets me thinking that they know their dominance of the market is over. Their acquisition of Trolltech’s Qt software stack did have me wondering what they were hoping to achieve at the time of purchase but for me its clear now that Nokia are “betting the farm” on Qt’s success on every platform.

Whether that happens of not, we will just have to see.

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