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Monday, July 07, 2008

Nokia Series 40 6th Edition - featurephone market direction

In my focus on femtocells and spectrum recently, I haven't had as much time to talk about handset software as I would normally. (I know that I'm "owing" a comment on the Symbian Foundation thing as well).

However, another announcement did catch my eye, as it's a bit less glamorous - but arguably more important. Although it's Nokia's high-end devices that get all the limelight, it's the more-basic Series 40 featurephone platform which dominates sales volumes - and which pretty much sets the scene for all low-to-midrange phones globally. Given that it accounts for 30%+ of all worldwide phone shipments - and probably 40%+ or 50%+ in certain markets - any developments in the platform pretty much determine the viability of future next-gen business models.

It's very easy to get hung up on Feature X or Application Y that is supported by S60 / Windows / Android / iPhone / whatever.... but if it ain't in S40, it ain't going to be that important in the really big, wide world.

There's a good general blog article on changes in S40 6th edition here, and the official page for developers is on Forum Nokia here

But I want to dig into this more deeply. Reading through the specs, one thing leaps out at me:

Nokia is turning S40 into a mobile web platform.

There has been a certain amount of speculation that Nokia would push Symbian and S60 down further into the featurephone space, perhaps even getting rid of S40. That's clearly nonsense - S40 has to sell at price points right down to the bottom end of the GSM market, and up to some pretty decently-featured higher-end 3G devices. Symbian won't scale down that low. S40 is still a proprietary OS, which doesn't allow developers to write "native" code.

Other rumours that Nokia is going to revamp S40 with an underlying Linux kernel are obviously wrong too - at least for another year or two.

Critically, there's also no Java multi-tasking capability. S40 remains a resolutely single-task platform. This has a number of side-effects - many of the "converged" concepts of mobile applications implicitly need to run background applications or have multiple 'live" services or windows. IMS really needs multitasking phones to be usable. WiFi in phones really needs multitasking to be useful for anything apart from basic UMA connectivity. Presence, push email, background downloads and a variety of other capabilities all benefit from proper multitasking, even if it possible to kludge workarounds.

There's no JSR281 Java API for IMS in the basic platform, nor JSR180 "Naked SIP". Although in the FAQ it mentions that specific phones might support extra APIs on a case-by-case basis, it singles out NFC support rather than other examples.

(Given that the S40 FAQ only mentions WiFi in the context of UMA, I think we can be fairly confident that notions of putting WiFi "into every handset" are total nonsense. I'd be surprised if more than 5% of S40 phones ever ship with WiFi).

On the other hand, there's lots of Web stuff in S40:

  • Webkit-based browser capable of rendering "the real Internet"
  • Support for Adobe Flash Lite 3.0
  • Suport for Javascript & Ajax
  • Developer support for Nokia's Widsets widget platform applies to S40 too

This fits with a lot of the painful truths I've been telling my network infrastructure advisory clients recently - web protocols like HTTP and AJAX are going to create more value for mobile than communications protocols like SIP. Given that architectures like IMS seem to assume that session-based SIP services are the be-all-and-end-all dominant future revenue generators, this poses some very awkward questions indeed. It also makes Ovi look much more important.

On the other hand, all this web goodness in S40 will be totally wasted without decent data plans - especially for the mass of global prepay users which I suspect account for the bulk of S40 phone buyers.

1 comment:

simon cavill said...

I couldn't see any mention of secure certificate handling which is a huge hole if you want the phone to do any form of payment or other secure transaction...