Nokia: Keep codin' for Symbian and Qt!

Why leave a sinking ship?

Is Nokia wobbling over its commitment to Windows? Or just stringing along the Symbian and Qt faithful?

The cell-phone giant has published a lengthy open letter pleading with coders to keep building apps for phones running Symbian and Qt - at least in the short term.

Purnima Kochikar, vice president of Nokia's community operation, Forum Nokia, is pleased to report that Nokia has evaluated its roadmap and that it now feels confident it will offer a strong portfolio of Symbian products during the transition period to Windows Phone during 2011 and 2012. Phew.

According to Kochikar, there's plenty to be optimistic about. This includes faster graphics and strong processors on upcoming phones as well as updates to the Symbian user experience, starting this summer with a new home screen, a faster browser, a new Navbar, and a "fresh look and feel" for Ovi Store and Ovi Maps.

And if the romance of this bounty doesn't keep you from jumping clear of the burning platform, then consider simple practicalities: Nokia has legal obligations "to support users for a period of time after the last product has been sold." Yes, nothing says a company is committed to its roadmap than the threat of legal action.

Why is Nokia trying to hold onto Symbian and Qt devs? Is the company regretting its decision to go all-in on Windows Phone? If it is, we'd understand.

The wave of love that greeted Windows Phone 7 last year has turned into rage from early adopters and growing concern about Microsoft's ability to handle even the simplest of tasks - i.e. updating phone software. A week after Microsoft said it had released the minor NoDo Windows Phone update, users on various networks, with different handsets in multiple countries, still had not been updated.

The carriers blamed Microsoft, while Microsoft blamed phone makers for unexpected differences in their hardware. This made a mockery of Microsoft's reason for originally restricting Windows Phone 7 to just five OEMs. Last year, Redmond said that by limiting OEMs, it could get the hardware and software engineering right and prevent the kind damaging failures that create a bad perception of a brand new product and hurt it for years after.

The farce continued this week. Microsoft's man in charge of product definition and design, Joe Belifore, had to apologize to enraged early adopters still missing their updates after he claimed the process "was going well."

One commenter responded to Belifore: "I am am early adoptor [sic]...I want the fucking update NOW. Stop talking bull *... no customer is happy... deliver the freaking update".

The fact Microsoft that can't manage what's supposed to be a minor update is shocking. This is a company that cracked the Windows PC update process ages ago.

If Elop bought into Windows without considering the readiness of either the code or Microsoft, then so too have industry analysts. IDC became the second analyst this week to claim that Microsoft will slide into third place in the smartphone OS market.

By 2015, something called "Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile" will have 20.9 per cent of the market, up from 5.5 percent, while Symbian will drop from 20.9 per cent to 0.2 per cent, according to IDC.

IDC's report makes your head spin. Apparently, Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile will be the fastest growing operating system between now and 2015. That's faster than Android, which IDC says is currently growing the fastest.

IDC check its analysts for brain damage. Windows Phone 7/Windows Mobile isn't one operating system. It's two. There's Windows Mobile, which is a dead end, and Windows Phone, which is still unproven and has near zero market share.

Plus, by 2015, Microsoft should deliver at least one full update. Both Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile should be things of the past.

The ability for Windows Phone to grow from zero will be determined not just by how many phones it ships on but by how many developers Microkia can convince to work with the new platform, feeding phones with downloadable apps.

Which brings us back to Symbian and Qt. Should Kochikar's call be read as a sign that Nokia is having second thoughts on Windows or - at the very minimum - laying the ground work on a Plan B? Probably not. This is a strategy to help Nokia keep selling handsets while it - and Microsoft - try to figure out how to make Windows Phone work on even more handsets supplied by even more carriers.

At the most, this could be an example of Nokia's tribalism in action, with different groups inside the company acting like independent entities and ignoring the company's overall objectives or strategy. In this case, it's Forum Nokia still advocating for Symbian and Qt - living in denial.

"What I can promise you is that we will not just abandon Symbian users or developers," Kochikar says. Not yet, at least. Nokia needs Symbian and Qt devs to fill the gap in regional markets where Windows Phone has not yet been released. Also, Nokia needs to keep something to ship on those faster handsets between now and when the Windows Phones are finally delivered, after 2012. Nokia can't put the business on a hiatus.

Meanwhile, she talks about how MeeGo remains "critically important" and how Nokia remains committed to investing in Qt. She directs us to a video by Nokia chief technology officer Rich Green who used terms like "strong candidate for consideration" to describe how Nokia's thinking about Qt. See if you can spot Green's mention of how Nokia's going to sell Qt to Digia. Clue: he doesn't.

But Nokia's goal remains clear: to switch users off of Symbian and on to Windows Phone. "It would not be in our interests to undermine their Nokia smart phone experience," Kochikar says.

And Kochikar trying to convince Symbian and Qt developers to hang on for as long as possible. "I've been asked many times how long we will support Symbian and I'm sure for many of you it feels we have been avoiding the question. The truth is, it is very difficult to provide a single answer. We hope to bring devices based on Windows Phone to market as quickly as possible, but Windows Phone will not have all language and all localization capabilities from day one."

We would argue that the safest place for Symbian and Qt devs is on Android. ®

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