The choice buzzword since the February 11 Nokia-Microsoft deal (satirically tagged on twitter as #NoWin) is ecosystem. Stephen Elop’s vision apparently stops short of a Linux-powered mobile solution. Either the newly-minted Nokia CEO can’t see how to monetize it or thinks it hasn’t happened fast enough for him– pick your choice of pundit assessments here.
The strategy that Nokia had originally described when migrating their Maemo efforts to the joint MeeGo venture with Intel was that the added value for their corporate bottom line would come from a combination of lower internal OS development costs along with a customized user experience on top of the MeeGo core… one that was promised at one point to “knock our socks off”. Who could reasonably argue with such a concept?
Obviously, Nokia’s board of directors and their recent replacement for Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo.
Which begs the question: did Nokia actually mean any of the prior positive statements on MeeGo’s prospects? And by extension, Qt? There were some pretty strong words supporting the latter. Was it a lie? Misdirection? Or speaking to a very limited timeframe? I don’t want to put the main focus on the past So let’s look at one possible future… after addressing the present.
Tech consumers have made it clear they either prefer or are willing to live in (often captive) ecosystems catering to their lifestyles (see Michael Mace’s excellent “It’s the Ecosystem, Stupid”). Apple is cited as the best practice in this regard, with their mobile and desktop experience revolving around iTunes as their content management system. RIM has enjoyed the same sort of loyalty in the business world with its Blackberry line. Microsoft has its Store and Xbox Live, the latter enjoying steady improvements and high promotion.
Nokia’s product fragmentation, on the other hand, has gotten in the way of building a compelling ecosystem. Their Ovi brand has languished, despite being launched with much fanfare and invoked with random, sincere-sounding corporate statements of support. Now it looks to be carved into some shape that can plug into Microsoft’s solutions.
What Users Want
As much as many may deride Apple’s closed iTunes-centric customer environ, it works. iTunes is the hub of a popular wheel. Those enjoying the service don’t care what detractors say about it. But what about those detractors? What are they asking for?
Last year at Akademy 2010 I presented a talk that was admittedly heavy on marketing, something a bit at odds with my KDE-oriented audience. But the main point I pushed, and still believe in, was the concept of an open ecosystem, one with MeeGo (or something very like it) at the core. One that supported a seamless entertainment and information discovery experience.
Quoting from my own presentation:
So, why do we need an open, mobilized feedback ecosystem?
- we want to be fully engaged in internet activities
- we need to cut through search engine noise to get to what interests us
- a mobile internet is the future
- we are more interested in the opinions of friends than strangers
- information wants to be free
Of course an ecosystem is about more than just feedback, but it is certainly about connecting a participant’s experiences in ways we’ve just begun to make real. And the last bullet is key: information does “want” to be free… and walled garden ecosystems limit the experience to only those willing to lock themselves in.
Conversely, an open ecosystem would take a less intrusive approach to membership (while at the same time ensuring privacy where desired) and be built with a fully transparent framework. There would be no restrictions, other than legal ones, on how a participant could discover, consume and share services and media. The user experience would span any domain willing to participate.
What I Envision
A while back I spoke about my desire to have devices and services that were highly aware of my immediate and projected needs. This would go beyond foursquare checkins and cloud calendars– in fact, the scenario I’m dreaming about would connect the two, and go even further. I envision wireless connectivity between every piece of computerized hardware I own, so that each is informed when I begin using another and that particular device becomes the sole focus of my activity… until I switch to something else in my personal ecosystem.
I want a settop box that acts as my home server and much more. It should even manage roaming profiles so that family members can sign onto any local device and be rewarded with their content and context of choice. I want it to be aware of every aspect of my home environment, from weather to emergencies (imagine dialing 911 and directions to the nearest emergency center automatically appear on your phone and car’s GPS, and paramedics are given your phone’s GPS coordinates if you’ve allowed) to things I have not even conceived. I would have a home cloud that could join bigger formations on the internet at large… without proprietary impediments.
An open ecosystem would support this. Linux and services like diaspora would enable this. I don’t imagine any of the current competive solutions would… or even could.
The Fourth Horse of the Elopocalypse
The conventional wisdom since Stephen Elop stunned us with the Microsoft partnership is that the world only has only room for “three horses” in the mobile solutions race. The two with a seemingly secure spot at the starting gate are Android and iOS. Under this scenario, WebOS, Blackberry or Windows Phone 7 are expected to fight to the death for that theoretical third track.
But one would have to be asleep at the switch to not realize Linux has the momentum these days. Its status as an OS relegated to running the Internet is growing to include a big place in a mobile future. Even though Android has wrapped it in a formidable Java cloak, the importance of that Linux core cannot be denied. And WebOS also has Linux under the hood.
Intel is still betting on MeeGo, but maybe it’s time to broaden the scope. Perhaps it is time to look at parallel mobile Linux activity, identify synergies and possible partnerships. Make a bold move to ensure we can at least talk about open ecosystems without eliciting cynical retorts.
I don’t think we need to settle for just three options. I believe there’s room for whatever the market will bear.