I spoke with Larry Berkin, the head of Global Alliances and U.S. GM of the Symbian Foundation, about the use of web standards for mobile phone development, mainly because we’ve seen this approach before — Palm touted the same strategy upon introduction of its webOS platform in January of 2009, but the approach didn’t seem to capture the attention of developers who flocked to other popular platforms, by comparison. I asked Berkin why offering a simple, web standards approach might work for Symbian, when it didn’t do so for Palm.
Web standards might be easier to use than low-level programming languages, but that simplicity can also limit an application’s capabilities. Berkin, however, says this isn’t the case with the new Symbian 3 web development tools, due to accessible APIs. “The breadth of available platform services is good. Using APIs, developers can access the dialer, calendar, camera, contacts and more,” he said. That means that without much additional effort or coding knowledge, a web standards application for Symbian 3 doesn’t have to be a simple client that can only access the web. By exposing APIs to core functionality, Symbian apps built on the new tool set could be used to capture a photo and share it on Flickr, for example.
I also asked Berkin about Qt, the Nokia-owned framework that was originally introduced as a programming method for Symbian 3. “Symbian offers a wide variety of development tools,” Berkin said, “but in terms of absolute numbers, Qt is still limited. This is just another tool in the arsenal.” So a two-pronged approach is the path towards Symbian software — one for experienced programmers looking for a write-once, run in several places with Qt, and one for us everyday folks that have the skills to build a web page. Between the two development tools, Symbian hopes to achieve what Palm hasn’t: a large and thriving development community to support one of the largest, open-sourced mobile device platforms in the world.
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