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Interview: T. Rouffineau, Symbian

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PhoneReport’s Meraj Chhaya had the pleasure to meet Thibault Rouffineau, Director of Developer, Symbian, at the Symbian Smartphones 2008 in London. He had the opportunity to have a sit-down with him and ask him some crucial questions on what concerns to Symbian going open-source.

He also took the opportunity to ponder what contributed to Symbian’s growth, and how this will continue in the future. More interestingly, the director of developer shared his views on what could be seen in the future of mobile environment, including his personal dream.

PhoneReport: “Thibault, thank you for joining us here at the Symbian Smartphones Show. The market, and PhoneReport are very excited about the fact that Symbian is going open-source, however we do have some questions”.

Thibault Rouffineau: “Hello Meraj, thank you. I am looking forward to clear your doubts!”

PhoneReport: “Symbian is a 10 year old company. Its size was nothing compared to what it is today. What was the catalyst involved in Symbian’s growth?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “There were quite a few: The overall growth of smartphones in the world; the need for end-users to have more features in their devices; the need for developers to bring more innovation; the acceptance from a user perspective; so that’s been one thing, demand, the other one has occurred over the years, which is the realisation of all our customers, all the OEMs, that it was a good thing to have a powerful OS that we could all share, and that has brought a lot more people within Symbian, and improved the OS itself.”

PhoneReport: “What would be different if Symbian started manufacturing its own devices, and not partner up with the manufacturers it works along with today?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Symbian has good cell phone knowledge, and that’s what Symbian is all about. OEMs are the best when it comes to sourcing devices, and also selling them.”

PhoneReport: “Would anything change if it was Samsung, or any other company who bought Symbian, and not Nokia?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Nokia has made their own decision, I cannot comment on what anyone else would do from a strategy perspective.

Nokia has a very strong vision in open-source, their vision is shared by all the others joined onto this announcement, they are all lined up behind the choice they directed, they are all lined up within the choice of a vision and the image that they’ve being portraying over the last six months.”

PhoneReport: “The big question: Why did Symbian only become open-source, or start a project to do so, only after Google Android was announced as an open source platform?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Symbian is becoming open-source now, because now there’s a wave of openness.

In my opinion, Symbian created openness: the notion of a open device, is something that came from Symbian; the ability to write applications in native code, Symbian C++ is something that came very early in Symbian’s history; the ability to actually create loads of different applications, not only on the native development environment, but in any development environment, letting people have full choice. That was open until three or four years ago.

Then on the PC side of things, open-source started to bring a new vision. Eclipse is a good example of a new  vision brought into the notion of openness. This is something that influenced Symbian, and the decision has been taken more than anything else, so it’s a global trend.”

PhoneReport: “Why was it necessary to actually go open source?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Symbian has always provided all lines of codes to developers within OEMs. From that perspective, Symbian is a community of developers having a look at the source code, being able to download it, creating afterwards the ROM that will go onto devices. From the beginning of Symbian, this is how it was created, and we know the value of this, so it is mainly about extending the number of people who get access to this source code.”

PhoneReport: “How will User Interfaces be converged? How is for example, TAT, The Astonishing Tribe, going be involved in the user interface?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “The whole beauty of open-source is that anyone can contribute when they want, the whole beauty of open-source based on EPL, which is the way the Symbian Foundation has chosen to go, is that one can also differentiate, and can keep some of the code they want to keep for themselves, contribute what they need to, and manage to find the right way for their business.”

PhoneReport: “Why was S60 the chosen interface for Symbian? What was the real reason: The adoption, the fact that Nokia owns the Symbian Foundation?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “The choice of the UI will actually be a mix of components from S60, UIQ, and MOAP. The reason why there’s going to be backward compatibility with some late S60 releases is mainly for the reason you just mentioned. What developers want today is a huge market, because they want to sell applications to as many people as possible, backward compatibility is a very important issue for them, so that was the natural choice.”

PhoneReport: “Using only one user interface will reduce the amount of variety that consumers are presented with. Is it not so?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Well, for example, the 5320 XpressMusic, from a user perspective, it’s completely different thing than what one would expect with a Nokia E71, so that’s one thing, the second thing mentioned by yourself about TAT, and if you take a look at what the N95 offers, you can actually have different user interfaces on top of the “standard” user interface; operators, device manufacturers, will play on that differentiability of the UI that Symbian offers.”

PhoneReport: “How open will the Symbian Foundation be in technical terms, how deep will developers be able to manage APIs, how deep can they penetrate?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “The published intention of the Foundation is to make all of the source code available to Foundation members in the first half of 2009, and over the period of two years afterwards, make all of the source code of the Foundation available in an EPL (Eclipse Public Licence), which means that all of the code down to kernel level will be available to developers, and that means that if someone wants to get involved and understand how the kernel works, they will be able to do it in future.”

PhoneReport: “How will security risks be faced in Symbian? Who will be in charge of developing a safety application, such as a anti-virus, for example?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “This is a good question that the Foundation will have to deal with. Symbian dealt very well with that matter, with Symbian Signed, for the last 10 years, Symbian Signed has been a great success, when you think about the fact that they have maintained compatibility of applications across devices, maintained a single test criteria across all operators and all device manufacturers. There’s a lot to be peeled from this heritage from the Symbian Foundation perspective, this is a question they will have to deal with, but it’s a question where a lot of work is being put in, with a lot of heritage.”

PhoneReport: “Is Symbian Signed as respected as it was, since hacks have appeared on Symbian OS9 devices, that allow a user to tunnel the restriction of having a signed application?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “There haven’t been any hacks across Symbian so far, Symbian Signed has been quite good at maintaining this, and as I said, there will be work to be done, but I’m confident that the security teams across all operators and across all OEMs will be able to tackle that issue.”

PhoneReport: “Once again, in technical terms, have you learnt anything from the Linux operating system, and the Google Android operating system, that uses the same kernel?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “I can’t really comment on this, we are looking at loads of directions, in terms of best practices, etc. Linux is one of them, Eclipse is one of them. We have to take a look at what’s happening out there, what are the best practices, I’m confident that that is what will happen.”

PhoneReport: “How will the Symbian Foundation support each manufacturer involved in human resource terms?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Symbian Foundation will not have developers, that’s a message that has been quite clear from the on-start, which means that various manufacturers members of the Foundation will have their own teams which will contribute code, maintain that code, in a standard open source way, and it’s going to be up these people to have the right teams. They have the teams already, trained developers who know Symbian C++, so from their perspective, it’s less of a different way of working.”

PhoneReport: “Developers complain that the Symbian platform itself is not attractive to them, unlike the Apple iPhone’s one, which in the end-user side, is actually more restrict. Is anything going to change with fact that Symbian is going open source, besides more code being available for the developer?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Developers of Symbian today have a huge amount of choice, when it comes to run-times, when it comes to number devices, form factors, countries, operators, from that perspective there is a lot of more opportunity for them to sell their applications, and to find their target market, and from that perspective, that will continue to exist.

One of the things the Foundation is looking into is an application store, that’s something that is still work in progress, but it’s recognized as necessary from a developer perspective.”

PhoneReport: “What’s next for mobile technology?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Anything to do with technology today is relevant to mobile, whether you think about networking, when you think about usability, lowering the price points of smartphones devices to make them available for more people, these all do count for the future of technology. Things Symbian has been quite good at, especially lately, tapping resources, tapping innovation from around the world.

I wouldn’t like to say “this is the way” or “that is the way”. I think innovation is what developers make it, and we are all going to be surprised. I would like to be doing the perfect prediction, but I’d also like to be surprised.”

PhoneReport: “What do you want to see in the future of mobile technology?”

Thibault Rouffineau: “My perfect dream, completely mad, is the day when people start to develop on mobile phones, for their mobile phones, and when you have not only when you a developer population of 50m, which I believe that’s what it stands at today, and not people who do development actually as a living, but a whole new generation of people who learn to develop on their own mobile devices and to see a lot more people in Africa, in India, just everywhere, coming up with new content, coming up with  new things for their phones.”

PhoneReport: “We definitely agree with your views. Thibault, thank you very for joining us today, your views certainly answered some of our questions. Hope to see you again soon.”

Thibault Rouffineau: “Thank you Meraj, see you next year!”

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By , Editor-in-Chief, Johannesburg office

Published on Dec 15th, 2008 GMT +2


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