Chat with Julien Fourgeaud about Symbian, Symbian^3, Nokia N8 and other stuff

Julien Fourgeaud has been in mobile industry for the last 15 years. He worked at Nokia, on development of various ESeries and NSeries handsets, including wildly successful E71 and not so successful N97. And, until few months  ago, Julien was with Symbian Foundation, acting as a Technology Catalyst, helping to shape and communicate the value proposition and the future of the Symbian platform. He left Symbian recently, to form his own consulting company – Le Catalyst, helping clients from development of product strategy to delivery, via execution and team coaching.

I caught up with Julien last week, to better understand how the development of Symbian OS works, to get his “insider” views on Symbian^3,  and discuss recent developments in Symbian world.

S.B. Symbian roadmap, up to Symbian^4, has been publicly announced more then a year ago. However, for someone like me, who does not work in mobile industry, some terms are a bit confusing. E.g. “functionally complete”, “hardened”, you also mention something like “productized”, etc; For me, most interesting thing to know is – when we can expect handsets with new version of OS?

J.F. Let’s start from the “Roadmap” part. A Roadmap is a tool used by technologists to support product decisions. It allows them to have an understanding of when a technology is most likely gonna be available. In terms  of Software Development, there have been so far different phases of the development process:

  • Concepting: Starting from a Vision of an application (the Operating System is a “Big” application) to requirements and analysis
  • Development: Taking the Vision from paper to device
  • Functionality complete: Stop adding new features and functionality. No new developments
  • Hardening: Fixing bugs and optimizing existing features/functionality
  • Delivery: Application ready for customers

Now, when it comes to an Operating System, it is a sum of many different applications. Combining these applications together is called “Integration”.

In term of mobile products, each mobile device has a different “Story”. A Story is the vision of the mobile device: Who will use it? Where? How much should it cost? What will be the specific application/service for that category of customers? Do we have specific requirements (environment, limited ressource, hardware limitations,…)?

In order for a device to comply with the Story, there is a need of “Productization”. Productization is turning a generic system into a specific product, that will then be made available on the market.

When a company has only one product, it is easy to productize during the whole development process. There is only one story that the developers have to keep in mind. When a company has a “Portfolio” of devices, for a wide range of customers, developers have to have a more “Generic” approach, and work with “Product Teams” to bring them to market.

To answer the question: “When will I see Symbian^3 devices on the market?” we need to ask 2 questions:

  • When will Symbian^3 enter the Hardening phase?
  • When will device manufacturer finish Productizing their device?

Symbian can answer the first question, that’s what is in the roadmap. Nokia, Samsung, SonyEricsson can answer the second question. Nokia did – with the N8 – announcing it for Q3 2010. Now the ball is in Nokia’s hand, Symbian Foundation doesn’t have much impact anymore on S^3 products.

S.B. Talking about Symbian^3. When the roadmap was announced last year, I somehow looked at Symbian^3, as a transitory release. Yes, probably important as the first true Foundtion release, but nothing to get much excited about. With cool things – UX reboot – coming in Symbian^4. However, Nokia execs, during Q1 results conference call said that, in terms of OS development, S^3 was THE big upgrade. And S^4 will be much more incremental release, requiring much lest investment?

J.F. It has been clear since the beginning that Symbian^3 is a transition release. It is a challenging one, as it is the first release, that takes into account the new processes and ways of working between the Symbian Foundation and its partners.

Symbian^3 is a rework of Symbian^1, fixing and improving the OS from the base to the top. Some UI/UX elements have been improved, such as the single tap, the multiple home screens, the widget management, but most of the work has been done under the hood. Optimizing the platform for the new Mobile needs is the goal.

Symbian^4 will bring a new UI paradigm, thanks to a major change in the platform. Qt will replace a big chunk of the OS and will enable new UI/UX possibilities. Device Manufacturers will be able to offer a complete new UI if they wish, and with lower effort. Right now designing a new UI for S^1-3 does not make any sense. It would be like throwing money out the window, as most of the work would become a waste in the next few months.

However, the designers are already working on S^4 UI/UX, and the Symbian Foundation is driving the initiatives – e.g, Symbian UI workshops.

S.B. What does “rework” of Symbian one mean? And you also say, that Symbian^3 is transition release. But Nokia CEO says that that, “in terms of OS development, all the major heavy lifting has been done in Symbian^3. It is the key upgrade to the high end line-up. Symbian^4 will be just an incremental improvement over S^3, requiring much less effort and investment.” Sounds a bit contradictory to me.

“Rework” means fixing what doesn’t work, improving what is not performant enough, making the system more robust, make it more simple to develop and maintain it. A “rework” or “refactoring” is needed periodicly. Sometimes it is done all along the development process, sometimes it is needed to have a period of major refactoring.

S.B. And, on that S^3 – trasition release vs S^3 beying the key upgrade, in terms of effort/investment, and S^4 – only a much smaller thing?

J.F. I can not comment on what Nokia’s CEO means, but I would definitely like to have a conversation on the topic with him. Nokia is a contributor of the Symbian Foundation. They provide a big part of the code, that composes the Symbian OS.

My personal opinion is, that Nokia has already done a lot of work that will be contributed to Symbian^4, during the same time frame that Symbian^3 has been “Hardened”.

Of course, a major part of Symbian^3 work, was to establish and use the new ways of working. That in itself will not be needed anymore for Symbian^4. The machine is already running, reducing the investment for the future.

Nokia is a major contributor and a device vendor. Their vision is based on their products, which use the Symbian OS. But they also are in charge of their own service development, such as OVI and others.

How much of Symbian Specific work was Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo refering to? How much was about Nokia’s own developments on top of the OS? These would be some of the questions I’d ask Nokia CEO.

S.B. From users perspective, how much of what he sees/interacts on the phone, is Symbian Foundation OS, and how much of that is proprietary to Nokia, Sony, Ericsson or Samsung?

J.F. Well, it is hard to answer that question, as it depends on the Device Manufacturer. Each taylor their UI/UX.

Nokia tends to keep the more “traditional” UI, as they have been the ones defining it. They do taylor the themes, icon organization and so forth, depending on the product.

SonyEricsson and Samsung tend to have a common UI accross their products, no matter which OS they use.

I believe, it is more of a strategic choice. Nokia has the same UX accross S40/Symbian. Most of the applications are Symbian in any case. But a Device Vendor can decide to remove a certain application, or to replace it with its own one, or a 3rd party solution. Music/Video players come to my mind. Browser could be too.

S.B. Btw, what happened to Symbian^2? We have handsets with S60.5/Symbian^1, we have upcoming handsets with S^3. But, outside of Japan, I haven’t seen any handsets with S^2?

J.F. The way Symbian OS development works nowadays, is based on “Time Boxing”. A release is developped during a certain Time Box of 6 months. S^2, S^3, S^4 are just names connected to the end of the Time Box.

When S^2 Time Box was getting to the end, S^2 didn’t have any “customer”. There was no device planning to use it, except in Japan.

S^3 Time Box started, and with it Nokia decided to make a product. S^3 is an evolution of S^2, the same way that S^4 will be of S^3

S.B. With Symbian^3 on the way, Nokia recently announced C3, C6 and E5 handsets. S60.5/Symbian^1, and even S60.3 devices. Does this mean that, for low end Nokia devices, S60 is here to stay for the next few years?

I would not make that assumption. Keypad only devices might still benefit from the stability of the S60v3 platform. When it comes to the C6, it was already in development way before S^3 was in shape of being integrated to a device. It takes from 8 months to 24 months to build a device nowadays in the business.

Now that a S^3 device is coming out, others will come along. However, S^3 needs a 3D acceleration chip, which means that it will have an impact on the costs of the devices. I would not be surprised if Nokia keeps on rolling out really cheap S^1 devices in the next months. It fits their goal of “bringing the touch in every pocket”.

S.B. What do you think of Nokia N8? There was some talk about “boring/dated interface”, small amount – 256MB of RAM, underpowered CPU and battery, etc;?

I like the N8. I have had a play with it and definitely think it has potential. It has potential to help me in my day to day life, and I am really looking forward to get one.

However, I can understand that it will not fit what other people are expecting from a Mobile Device. That’s fine, with so many different people in the world, it is impossible to make a Mobile Device that will fit 100% of humans. Which is a good thing, would be boring otherwise (Reminds me of Wall-E‘s: “Blue is the new Red”).

In term of performances, I made a post on Symbian France , that I will translate to  English and post on my own blog.

Symbian is optimized for low power consumption, low memory and so forth. What I have seen of the device, and how it performed, made it clear that S^3 is way more optimized than S^1. On top of that, the GPU on the N8 does make a difference. Let’s see [how it works] with a commercial software.

But the low specs also contribute to a low price, and that will enable positioning the device in a more affordable bracket.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • http://www.Maemo-Freak.com christexaport

    Good discussion with former Nokia device designer and Symbian Foundation Technology Catalyst, present mobile tech consultant on the Symbian platform.

  • http://www.mobileinfoplanet.com MIP

    First the great report on Nokia's Q1 results, then the interview with with Eldar, and now this.
    Very interesting questions, you asked him just the things I have been wondering, e.g. Nokia stating that S^3 is the big leap while it's been widely understood that it would come with S^4.
    Great job!