Nokia Taps Web Developers for Next Killer Mobile App

Nokia Web Run-Time enables developers with basic Web skills to create mobile apps.

LONDON—Nokia is trying to tap the broad world of Web developers to help deliver the next set of "killer" applications for the mobile platform.

In a meeting on Oct. 15 during a Nokia Developer Forum preceding the Symbian Smartphone Show to be held here Oct. 16 and 17, Nokia officials detailed the Helsinki-based companys strategy regarding its Web Runtime for its S60 smart-phone platform.

With the Nokia Web Run-Time, "millions of Web developers can now go mobile," said Craig Cumberland, director of technology and applications marketing for Nokias Software Platforms group.

The Web Runtime enables developers to develop services and content rapidly, lowers the barrier to entry into the mobile space, and welcomes "long-tail" developers to the S60, Cumberland said. It also enables advertisers and media groups to extend the experience of their brands, he said.

A key feature of the Nokia Web Run-Time experience is the Nokia widget, a mini-application or wizard for mobile devices that personalizes the user experience. Cumberland said widgets are "on-device" applications made purely out of HTML, JavaScript, CSS and AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML).

"Anything you can do on a Web page, you can deliver through a widget," he said.

The Nokia widget is also an indication of how Nokia intends to maintain a dominant position in the market despite the arrival of competing products, such as, possibly, a "Google phone."

Widgets allow users to personalize Internet content, make lightweight Web applications and stay current with the things that matter to them, Cumberland said. Although widgets have been available on PCs for some time, they bring particular advantages on mobile devices, as mobiles are highly personal.

"Widgets on the desktop are OK, but on a mobile device they are a whole different story because of the customization standpoint," Cumberland said.

And although widgets are compelling for consumers, they also can have enterprise applicability, he said. One of the benefits users derive from widgets is quick, easy access to online services such as e-mail, weather, news, online sharing and storefronts, Cumberland said. Widgets also foster rich experiences such as animations, fading effects and user interface design.


Click here to read about Nokias mobile advertising relationship with Enpocket.

He also said that as the number of available widgets grows, the need for some sort of widget management will also arise. Indeed, Nokia considered creating a widget manager, but decided handling widget management would be better left to licensees, Cumberland said.

The Web Run-Time was announced in April and is targeted to begin showing up on devices by the end of 2007, Cumberland said. "The two main parameters you have to worry about as a developer are screen size and how to program soft keys," he said.

Cumberland also said, "Theres a whole other business model associated with widgets." Indeed, he said, "this is not specifically Nokia-focused. We have [also] talked to Samsung and LG" about adopting the Web Run-Time and those companies welcomed it, he added.

Tools, documentation and an SDK (software development kit) for widget development have been made available via Forum Nokia, the companys developer network. Widgets will be distributed to users through several channels, one of which is WidSets, a popular consumer Internet service that allows users to personalize the mobile Internet experience, Nokia said.

As the Web Run-Time is built with standard Web technologies, developers can create new innovative widgets and also migrate existing widgets from the desktop to S60 with minimal effort, Nokia officials said. In the future, widgets will benefit from connecting to Web 2.0 services, Web content, and the core applications and capabilities of S60, such as phone book, calendar and GPS, the company said.

Moreover, Cumberland said developers could deliver widget mashups that combine the functionality of more than one mashup. "You could have widget mashups instead of service mashups," he said.

While widgets reflect the potential to deliver killer mobile applications, Nokia acknowledged the potential security aspects.

"We restrict access to anything below the browser layer" or below the user interface, Cumberland said. "There are discussions about adding additional API support to access other components … but we dont want to provide more access without a real security story. Thats the reason we have [widget access] in such a tight sandbox right now."

Cumberland said the Nokia S60 platform is the leader in providing the best Internet experience on mobile—"translating what you did on the desktop to the phone." And the S60 was the first mobile software platform to enable the creation of wizards using standards-based Web technology, he said. "For instance, you can blog from your phone or send photos to Flickr," he said.

Cumberland said the move to enhanced support for Web developers is part of what he refers to as the third phase of mobile device adoption. "This is really about a complete and total integration between the user and the Web, in that the interactivity point is not six button clicks, but may even be voice-activated," he said. "It has to be a seamless approach."

In the future, Cumberland said, it will be functionality and services and range of choices that will drive users to certain devices, such as the iPhone and Nokias N95. "Its no longer just color, size, battery life and talk time, but can you browse the Web with a full browser," Cumberland said of reasons why users buy certain phones. Moreover, "voice is becoming a niche app" on phones, he said.

Instead, smart phones and other devices are presenting new opportunities for developers to create new and compelling applications, such as for mobile banking, particularly in developing markets, Cumberland said. India, Africa, Indonesia and Asia represent fast-growing emerging markets where wireless and mobile applications have been able to flourish because they supersede the need to build core infrastructure that supports legacy systems.

Meanwhile, Adobe Systems, at its recent Max conference in Chicago, announced Flash Lite 3 and Nokia immediately announced support for it. Flash Lite 3 allows mobile device manufacturers, operators and content providers to differentiate their offerings by giving users the ability to watch Flash Player-compatible video and browse Flash-enabled Web sites with a mobile Web browser.

Cumberland said Nokia also has been "investigating" support for Microsofts Silverlight technology, which competes with Flash, but he said he is not sure of the status of that investigation.


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