Ex-Symbian Chief Predicts the Future of Mobile Software
By Eric Lin, Thu Jul 22 00:30:00 GMT 2004

Despite the fact that Colly Myers headed up Symbian at its inception, he thinks that developers of smartphone OSes are focusing their energies on the wrong software.


In an interview with the Register, Colly Myers debunks what he believes to be several myths of the mobile economy. Many of his theories seem to at least be related to the fact that he's moved from OS development to representing a company that offers services via SMS. Myers believes that in order to be successful, application and OS developers will need shift their mindset from applications to services.

Myers doesn't have much faith in OS-level mobile applications, or the "Palm economy." He believes that OS-level applications have their place -- namely in extending the system level functions of a handset, but that Java applications make more sense for everything else. Like many analysts, he believes that the true mobile economy lies in services, and small Java applications are more akin to services, and more appropriate for cellular hardware / bandwidth than OS-level applications.

Despite his support of Java, Myers actually favors big name smartphone OSes as opposed to those built on Java. Not only is Java lacking the memory management that a full OS so critically needs, but it lacks the radio-level tools that make building a full featured system so easy on other platforms. This is especially critical as operators move to 3G with multi-mode handsets. For example, he believes Symbian really shines in cases like its use in DoCoMo's new FOMA phones.

Both the DoCoMo example as well as the success of Nokia's Series 60 highlight another successful tactic of Symbian, and one that he wishes he would have jumped on sooner. Myers wishes Symbian would have spent even less time developing a UI for its OSes. Although all smartphone OSes offer some customization features, manufacturers and operators want more control over every aspect of the interface, should they chose to invest the time and money in creating one.

What Colly Myers, as well as a number of experts and analysts, are really predicting is the mobile phone as the gateway to the post-PC world. But is Western culture too entrenched in the PC mentality to make the shift to micro-applications and services? At least in the short term it seems we are. In addition to the shift in software, Myers also predicts a shift in hardware similar to Donald Norman in The Invisible Computer. He says that the success of specialized devices like the iPod should serve as a hint to manufacturers that are trying to pack as many functions as possible into handsets. Although Norman has backed off on this theory to an extent, it still best represents the post-PC mentality -- small specialized networked devices replacing large clumsy boxes. In a way this parallels the shift from large Os-specific software to the small Java applets or services Myers prefers.