Dashboard widgets coming to mobile phones (or: Apple willingly giving up their head start to Nokia)

Back in June , prior to the iPhone launch i’ve written about how “Apple should open up the iPhone and likely is prepared to do so“. I the meantime a lot happened . The iPhone was and is a resounding success, third party developers and hackers worked furiously to reverse engineer the software in order to be able to develop 3rdParty apps, lots of great apps were developed, among them a one click installer, and a package/application manager.

People were happy. But then firmware 1.1.1 came along and with it encrypted images and broken apps. Hackers are once again furiously working on a jailbreak (and progressing slowly). I still think that Apple is prepared to open up the iPhone /iPod touch along the lines i sketched in my June post (read my full post here):

  • widgets first,
  • access to OS functions second
  • real 3rd party apps third
  • securing access to critical functions via certificates (like Symbian and J2ME are already successfully doing)
  • Leopard being instrumental for providing sandboxes and application signing via certificates

I even hope think that firmware 1.1.1 is a step into that direction ( e.g. bringing sandboxing etc closer to the iPhone). There are some indicators that i might be not to wrong. See here, here and here.

And if Apple isn’t going to go that route, i have no understanding whatsoever, why they are intentionally and willingly giving up this field to Nokia, a company that is more and more postitioning itself as the main rival in the mobile space.

Not only is Nokia the the worlds biggest handset manufacturer, directly targeting iTunes with their OVI brand and their new handsets (read a comprehensive comparion between Nokia and Apple over here.), acquiring mobile marketing companies and map data providers and sign up video distribution deals and are going head with Apple on their latet ad campaign, touting their openness (however, some person think that apple is not the only target of that campaign).

Web Run Time – Widgets Running on Mobile phones

In a very much overlooked announcement back in April (Unfortunately i did overlook it too, the announcement was brought to my attention just last week by a good old friend at T-Mobile) that they are going to bring widgets to their mobile phones (or as Nokia would say multimedia computers) . And they are going the same browser engine as Apple is using on the iPhone: WebKit.
(Rem: Although both the N95 and the iPhone are using WebKit i have to say that due to the zippiness and the gesture interaction (especially pinching and panning) the iPhone browser IMHO plays in a completely different league)

The widget Platform built on top of WebKit is called Web Run Time (read more about it here and here). And it exactly goes the way i sketched:

Web Run-Time offers numerous possibilities for Web application development. 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. In the future, widgets will benefit from connecting both to Web 2.0 services, Web content and to the core applications and capabilities of S60, such as phonebook, calendar and GPS.

Simple widgets with local storage first, access to functionality later. What is especially telling is the experience report describing the port of the WeatherBug dashboard widget (see here and here). Basically it tells that porting of simple widgets is a no brainer.

Right now neither is Web Run Time available to the general developer nor are their handsets in the marketplace ( And given Nokias series 60 platform philosophy where existing handsets never get a feature pack upgrade, it is unlikely that current N95 will be able to run widgets (They are on 3rd edition, FP1, Web Run time is part of 3rd edition FP2). But the availability of the developer tools is scheduled for Q3 and might coincide with the Nokia Tech Days scheduled for October 10th – 11th (that is tomorrow!) in Miami and November 13 – 14th in Palo Alto. Hav a look at the conference features yourself:

Conference features:

• What’s new in Nokia developer platforms
• Tips for improving your developer skills even more
• How to use Nokia platforms and technologies as a business advantage
• Info on widgets, browser run-time technologies, Linux and Maemo open source platforms, S60, Java and Flash (Lite)
• Ideas on finding new and profitable channels (courtesy of the Nokia Business Development staff)
Symbian technology experts and partners and more

IMHO, Apple has still a very tiny window of opportunity left to communicate their third party strategy for the iPhone (and the iPod touch). I still hope that this announcement will be at least synchronized with the introduction of Leopard (if not earlier). If not not only imyself but may be also some journalists and analysts are going to ask questions.