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Chat with Bruce Carney,Symbian Developer Programs Director
by Nancy Nicolaisen
January 8, 2008
I caught up with Mr. Carney last week and quizzed him on mobile development issues, as seen from the Symbian perspective.


NN: What initially drew you to small systems development?

BC: My early career was embedded systems programming --flight simulators and some pretty advanced stuff using ADSL to do video on demand on an C++ embedded OS in 1993. However, that is not why I am working for Symbian. I have been passionately interested in the internet since 1987.

NN: Interest in the internet brought you to Symbian? Explain a little about the relationship, as you see it.

B.C.: Looking back, in 1990, few computers were networked. Then within 10 years every computer was connected! By 2000, it was apparent to me that the internet would lose the wires and wireless, mobile networking would replicate what had happened in the fixed line internet.

I predicted to myself (and anyone who would listen) that by 2010 the internet would be wireless (i.e. the mobile internet would be real) so I took a career diversion. During 2007 we have seen that many of the big technology announcements are relating to smartphone technology. Comparing what happened in 1998-2000 on the fixed internet, I truly believe 2008-2010 is potentially going to be a massive period of innovation in mobile.

NN: Could you give a brief history of Symbian OS? For example, where are its technical roots? What brought the partners/consortium together? How did Symbian recruit such a broad audience?

B.C.: Symbian is neither a partnership nor a consortium. It is a separate company, born in 1998, whose sole mission is to create and market an open standard OS for mobile devices. The idea that we are a consortium probably springs from the fact we were founded with investment from major mobile device manufacturers Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson. Today’s Symbian OS evolved from an earlier mobile OS, EPOC, created by a company called Psion.

The Symbian founders saw a need for an open OS, independent of specific device vendors. Openness is a cornerstone of how we do business, and we work closely with our customers to evolve our standard in ways that support the advancing capabilities of their devices. Because of this, we have broad knowledge about emerging handset design, and this informs our direction for the Symbian OS. Everyone’s requirements get included. This is all possible because our customers don’t fear us! We don’t compete in their part of the value chain. We make a mobile device operating system. Period.

NN: What, from your point of view, are the strongest technical features of Symbian OS? Of the Symbian C++ language?

B.C: Symbian OS is designed as an object oriented OS from the ground up. This gives us unparalleled extensibility, and device manufacturers love this. It allows them to use one OS and extend, segment and differentiate their devices without significant increase in manufacturing costs. Having an open standard OS also "future proofs" them to a certain extent, because they can evolve existing device designs gracefully.

The Symbian C++ language is based on what we know to be required in the mobile space: "five nines" reliability, good battery life, performance, and minimized Bill of Material cost. These considerations are industry drivers, and we are very sensitive to all of them. Squeezing the max out of a device is what the mobile handset business is about. The Symbian C++ language and SDKs are devised to support great device variety-- differing form factors, camera types, mobility options--but with great efficiency. We expose more APIs than any competing solution, a really huge amount of functionality.

All of this exposed functionality, however, is protected by an overarching platform security, which is absolutely essential on a handset. You don’t want your phone to reboot when you need to call 911, after all. In short, we make sure that the right functions are exposed to the right people developing the right stuff, which is the elegance of our approach.

NN: What are your favorite tools and development environments and why?

Nokia’s Carbide is our current favorite. It’s an Eclipse descendant and so is stable, familiar to a lot of our developers and in its base version, free. Nokia Tools Download Link

NN: Could you characterize a typical Symbian developer in terms of locale, experience and application niche?

B.C: In terms of the number of apps we see coming through the Symbian Signed process, a large share come from the US and Germany. We also see a good deal of activity from China, but when you normalize for population, it’s German and US development that stand out as generating the highest volume of software. We know there are as many as 2.5 million developers writing applications that can run on Symbian OS based smartphones. When we segment our developer population, we divide apps among Mobile Services, Games and Utilities. We see more or less level interest across these categories.

Of course, today we are talking about development using Carbide and Symbian C++, but it’s important from our perspective to reiterate that more "user friendly" development tools like Adobe’s Flash generate mobile apps and content that run on the Symbian OS platform. When we think about developers, we think of the ones using tools above us in the stack, as well as those using Symbian C++ to take advantage of the power and advanced features of the Symbian SDKs.

NN:Talk a bit about the signing process. Why is it necessary? Why give operators so much power over the channel? Who benefits?

B.C: ( Big Sigh...) I recognize that the signing process generates a lot of controversy. Let me say this: The point of signing is to keep devices open, not to close them. The Symbian Signed process gives applications an unimpeachable seal of authenticity. It is a way for carriers and consumers to know it is safe to buy and use mobile apps and content. This benefits developers as much as it does carriers and consumers. Users simply won’t tolerate phone apps that make their devices unavailable. Symbian Signed status is accepted or required by more than 250 carriers worldwide, which is about the best possible way to open doors to markets. It’s a "Test once, run anywhere" strategy. Everyone benefits.

NN: Is this an enterprise solution developer’s place to be, or is it a consumer driven space?

B.C: At this point, consumers are driving the mobile device market. But whether at work or not, we are all consumers. We tend to choose the best experiences, when offered a choice. This has implications for enterprise mobile applications. For many kinds of business interactions, mobile devices are simply going to be more convenient and productive.

At bottom, the question for enterprise mobile apps may be this: "At what point don’t you need a laptop anymore?" High end mobile devices literally offer everything in terms of performance and functionality as premium notebook computers, except they don’t have full size screens and keyboards. One Nokia model has 8 GB of storage and uses demand paging for memory management. This is really sophisticated stuff--not so long ago, mainframe computing technology. It’s just remarkably fast. Also, light, easy to carry, and multi functional.

NN: Do you see significant growth ahead for the Symbian developer community? Why or why not?

B.C: Well, sure. It’s a pretty big opportunity, and this isn’t going to be lost on the software entrepreneur. But remember, at Symbian, when we think of our developer community, we think of development environments above us in the stack as well as our native app developers. Symbian phones currently host Adobe FlashLite content and the S60 browser, which means that many iPhone widgets just run without changes. There is a port of .NET for Symbian and an open source port of Python. There is ongoing effort to port GNU type tools and we have a new POSIX compliant API set. It’s a great time to be a Symbian developer.

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About the Blogger

Nancy Nicolaisen has authored three books on C++ programming topics; hundreds of articles for print magazines including Byte, Dr. Dobbs and PC Magazine; and was the chief contributor to's Windows CE Zone. Former researcher and Computer Science Professor, she specializes in small device and embedded systems programming.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2008 Nancy Nicolaisen. All rights reserved.

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