November 12, 2003

Nokia closing in on mobile phone TVs, seeks more developers

Author: Chris Preimesberger

Nokia, the world's largest mobile telephone maker, is getting awfully close to bringing a handheld, Internet-connected television to the consumer market. The Finland-based megacorporation has launched a new category of handheld product -- called mobile media devices -- which feature Nokia's largest, most colorful display: a 640x320 touch-sensitive screen that renders as many as 65,536 colors. Nokia says these new devices, to hit the market in Q2 of 2004, offer plenty of new opportunity for Symbian, Java, and C++ developers and is now making SDKs available for free download.

The horizontal-shaped devices also stream and play back audio and video, and they are the first to support Nokia's Streamer SU-6 accessory, a mobile receiver designed to demonstrate mobile phone television. The Streamer SU-6 will be used in pilot projects to demonstrate the future of digital broadcasting on mobile devices.

The first device, called the Nokia 7700 (see graphic below), offers something called Visual Radio: FM radio reception combined with visual services, including images, text, and interactive elements on the screen of the handset, delivered through the mobile network.

Another new application for the 7700, Movie Channel, provides streamed movie trailers from several major studios that are updated on a weekly basis.

Many of these new devices, including the 7700, will also include an integrated digital camera, an application for cropping and editing images, and multimedia messaging service (MMS) for sharing images and other multimedia content. They also include digital rights management (DRM) technology from the Open Mobile Alliance.

Nokia also has announced the availability of its Developer Platform 2.0 for Series 90 handsets. This platform includes a full suite of APIs for media-rich Symbian, Java, and C++ applications, including audio, video, and still graphics.

"With the new data speeds becoming more commonplace, demand for new and better mobile services is going to continue to rise. This new version of our platform allows developers more ways to go in

The Nokia 770 Media Device.

terms of building more performant applications," said Ilkka Raiskinen, Nokia's senior vice-president of entertainment and media. "We want the new platform to serve as a kind of sphere all around our development tools, because it can expose all Web-related services for our developers and third parties alike."

Nokia has a registered on-line community of 1.25 million developers, said Lee Epting, vice president of Forum Nokia, the global developer operations group within Nokia. At a conference Oct. 28 in Nice, France, Epting presented an overview (in PDF format here) of the business benefits of independent developers working with Nokia on apps for the new devices.

More on page 2...Why Nokia is reaching out to open source developers

"We believe we have built a solid, reliable open standards environment for all our developers," said Nokia spokesman Chuck Chopp. "We want developers to be able to build their apps to work across a number of devices and networks, not just Nokia's. More and more apps are experiential in nature (games, video, voice, etc.) and require powerful tools. It's a very different ball game now, with our new platform, as opposed to our platform for Series 60."

Series 90 devices are substantially larger, horizontal in design (as illustrated in this story), with higher-horsepower operating systems and larger memory caches. The missing piece of the puzzle, of course, is the development of new, more powerful applications to run on them. Nokia is doing a limited amount of R&D in house but is looking long-term at the open source community to get more involved.

Nokia has been actively recruiting and trying to entice developers with experience in the Symbian operating system, which powers most of Nokia's high-end phones and phone/computer combination units. And that's a high number; Nokia moved more than 150 million phones in 2002 -- many of which are Java-enabled with Symbian systems. The company hasn't released phone sales expectations, but 50 million Java phones sold may be possible in 2003. Nokia does expect to ship 100 million of the new Series 90 development platforms in 2004.

In fact, using its Forum.Nokia developers' site, the company has been aggressively reaching out to attract new talent to build applications for all its handheld platforms -- everything from ringtones to personal finance and enterprise sales apps. Eighteen months ago, Nokia opened an adjunct developers' site, Nokia Developer Channel on DevX.com, that apparently has been very successful at attracting new developers into its fold. The site features case studies, whitepapers, free toolkit downloads, and how-to articles on developing for Nokia and Symbian technologies.

The site also includes informative (and free) documents, such as a Bluetooth Technology Overview, documentation and guides, and free toolkits.

"We're all about open standards and as much open source code as possible," Chopp said, "in order to extend the reach of our applications for deployment across all boundaries. We want everyone in the chain to prosper ... and open source, open standards is the way to go."

Nokia's developer-relations business and product marketing information is contained in its 18-month-old, no-cost TradePoint program. Even if a new app isn't bought by Nokia itself, the company assists developers by connecting them to service providers and operators through this online channel. Tradepoint is a business-to-business e-marketplace that offers new business opportunities for both buyers and suppliers of mobile services. Developers must fill out a supplier enrollment request to get started in the Nokia marketing and sales operation.

What's in the new toolkit

Features of Nokia Developer Platform 2.0 include:

  • Symbian OS 7 native APIs, including Symbian OS installation file "SIS format" for native applications
  • MMS (multimedia messaging service) with SMIL
  • J2ME with MIDP2.0, CLDC1.0, Wireless Messaging API, Mobile Media API and Java APIs for Bluetooth
  • XHTML browsing over TCP/IP
  • OMA Digital Rights Management (DRM) - forward-lock
  • OMA Client Provisioning support

That the dawn of handheld television monitors is near at hand isn't a surprise. Nokia announced last year that it intended to go straight ahead to include MMS-enabled applications such as 7700 in as many Series 90 phones as possible, and it is making good on its promise. The MMS, central in the development of the new devices, was announced in February 2001 as the result of the R&D of a coalition of companies, led by Nokia, Motorola, and several other multinational companies.

In addition to the large, intuitive new touch screen, the Series 90 UI features interactive onscreen components such as handwriting recognition and an Onscreen/Virtual keyboard, enabling the user to control a device with a stylus or hardware keys. Series 90 also features customizable skins, allowing users to easily change the entire graphical look of the device.

Two new SDKs, Series 90 SDK for Symbian OS and Series 90 MIDP Concept SDK, were also released. Available for free download at Forum Nokia, they provide mobile software developers with the necessary tools to begin creating mobile applications and services optimized to take advantage of the advanced capabilities of Developer Platform for Series 90.

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