Nokia: Full-Speed Ahead on Mobile Web

NEW YORK — Nokia, the world’s largest handset maker, today offered a glimpse into its ambitious vision for the mobile Web.

In a presentation here at the Web 2.0 Expo that was equal parts a roadmap for Nokia’s Symbian strategy and a sales pitch for its S60 platform, Nokia senior product marketing manager Oren Levine emphasized the convergence of technology and convenience that has long been the talking point of mobile Internet evangelists.

“The whole point of having the Internet is changing people’s lives,” Levine said. “When you then combine that with mobility you’re providing the same power not only at the desktop, but wherever you are.”

And Nokia’s S60 platform already enjoys a considerable reach, running on more than 150 million devices worldwide — both its own and those of Samsung, Lenovo and LG. All told, S60 appears on more than 80 handset models, ranging from traditional smartphones to devices geared specifically for multimedia or business applications.

Nokia recently rolled out a widget platform for S60, inviting developers to build applications through the common Web languages of HTML, Javascript and CSS.

The company is now in the process of integrating platform services into the widget framework, which Levine explained will enable developers to mash up data from the Web with applications living in their phone.

One of the early examples of the platform integration that Nokia demoed was an application designed to deliver real-time, location-based traffic data to S60 phones.

“We’re not quite sure where this is going, but we think it’s going to be an exciting way to see some new applications and services,” Levine said. The first fully integrated platform should be available next year.

With its widget framework, Nokia is casting a wide net with the developer environments it supports. In addition to the common Web languages, Levine said that the framework is compatible with Java Mobile, C++, Python, Flash, Ruby and Silverlight. It also supports a host of multimedia codecs.

A contest for ‘eco-friendly’ apps

In the spirit of fostering innovation, Nokia is launching a developer contest today. Nokia will reward the top entries in categories such as eco-friendly apps and apps that promotes mobile computing in the third world. Levine relayed the story of one group Nokia has been working with that is using high-resolution camera phones to enable remote diagnostics in villages in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nokia’s promotion of S60 dovetails with its broader designs on the mobile Web, of which the cornerstone will be its acquisition of the operating-system maker Symbian originally formed by a consortium of companies that included Nokia.

That transaction is currently under regulatory review, and Levine said he expects it to close in the fourth quarter.

At that point, Nokia will begin rolling out the source code behind the operating system through the Symbian Foundation. Assuming regulators bless the acquisition, Nokia plans to launch the foundation early next year.

At first, the source code will be available in its entirety for what Levine described as a “nominal member fee.”

Over the next two years, Nokia will move to make the entire Symbian stack available to the developer community for free.

Levine said that future versions of Symbian will be backwards compatible with the S60 platform.

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