What makes smartphones smart? Panel discussion with Simon Rockman

David Wood, Research, Symbian
Olivier Bartholiot, Purple Labs
Andy Bush, LiMo Foundation
Rich Miner, Google
James McCarthy, Microsoft

DW: We'll look back on phones of today as being rubbish in future. Very happy to see Google services running well on Symbian phones. Looking forward to collaboration; whilst competition stops us going stale, there's too much variety in the market and it's slowed us down. Symbian is a combination of old (some code is 14 years old) and new (continually renewing). Innovation is going to speed up: Symbian are removing some fragmentation from their platform (i.e. UIQ), and embracing open source.

OB: Recently recalibrated themselves as a software business. Today, the specialists in Linux on low-end devices.

AB: LiMo, a young organisation (<2yo), meant to consolidate a lot of fragmentation that was happening. First release of the platform was shown at MWC this year, second release this year. Model is that member organisations (LiMo are non-profit) contribute: about 1000 engineers working on the platform. Not a standards organisation, they're about producing real code. Use the best of open source (e.g. GTK). Their members half half a billion subscribers on their networks. They're a governance organisation: one member, one vote.

RM: Hardware OEMs and carriers don't understand software very well. This is why Apple could embarrass the industry with the release of a first-generation handset. They understand software, developers, frameworks and platform design. They built not just a handset but an ecosystem. Google fundamentally believes mobile is an important platform, and we need to get our applications out on mobile. We struggled to build MIDP apps that wouldn't require changes, app signing.

JM: To be an OS provider, you need to achieve some scale. We have over 100 mobile operator partners across the world today. All major operators sell Windows Mobile devices. MS licenses software to OEMs: the core OS is valuable.

RM: Google has no business model as regards Android: it's all open source. The aim is long-term: over time, we think that mobile is important. Our mission is to reach everyone, and we need mobile to this. Our business model is advertising, and it's important that no one entity control the mobile phone platform. Once we can deliver value to the consumer (as we did with search), we'll figure out how to deliver advertising. Android is "designed to go downmarket quickly". A lot of economies "aren't two-screen economies, these are the only devices they have".

SR: Olivier, could you talk about your business model.

... stuff about Purple Labs revenues for 2009 ...

DW: Last year we generated $300m from licensing. Symbian Foundation will be about 1/10 size of the current Symbian.

JM: HTC have been a great partner for Microsoft over the years. Samsung are grabbing UK market share in Windows Mobile terms. All our OEMs serve different markets, they all do different things.

SR: Motorola are stopping doing Symbian phones and starting to do Android phones, what do you think David?

DW: It's understandable that handset vendors don't want to rely on a single OS. In a few years there'll be less hedging of bets and some consolidation.

... panel agree that runtimes grow in importance ...

DW: Emergence of runtimes doesn't remove the need to solve fragmentation at the operating system level.

Q: What makes a smartphone smart?
DW: The ability to add features.
RM: Smartphones haven't been very smart. You could barely make calls on them when I launched them at Orange.

Q: Why is there no Apple representative on the panel?
SR: They declined to send anyone. They prefer to keep to themselves.