OpenWave phone suite challenges S60, Symbian
Smartphones for the masses?
3GSM You're a handset manufacturer. Why pay Symbian and Nokia license fees when you can have 90 per cent of the functionality running on much cheaper hardware? That's OpenWave's proposition, and the company that gave you WAP and the world's most widely distributed (if unused) browser has a fairly spectacular demo to prove it.
PhoneTools Version 7.0 sounds evolutionary but it's pretty revolutionary for OpenWave. Normally, I'd rather have gone to the dentist than attend an OpenWave demo (I'm kidding). I'd expected a browser like its predecessors - WAP is dreadful and the browser synonymous with green and black screens that only a QCOM shareholder would ever think was state of the art.
But soft, V7 looks spectacular. It's a suite including messaging, browser and file manager, and it's a very small chunk of code - about 1.4MB in all. But the clincher is the graphics engine.
"All the assumptions we had in 1995 were wrong," OpenWave's Tim Hyland told us. As you'd expect from a team led by Benoit Schillings, ex-Be and the former QuickDrawGX guy Mike Reed, it has some unexpected tricks - alpha blended previews of pictures of overlays, and a full transformation matrix that supports shearing and scaling. The graphics engine is about 50kb. Quite something.
Benoit told us that there's no Java VM in the package - "we're VM agnostic" - so evidently the customers have their own arrangements for Java. (Benoit had left his stationary gravity accelerator back in California.
Now you wouldn't have marked OpenWave and Symbian down as competitors at the start of the week, but they're almost bumper to bumper now. Nokia's intention is to move the very rich Symbian-based Series 60 down into the mid-tier, while OpenWave's little suite - it's not really a platform, and there's the rub - gives manufacturers a reason not to.
Opting for OpenWave might seem short sighted - it was none other than Juha Christensen who this week cited a report suggesting that operators get over 50 per cent more loyalty from smartphone users than users of the cheaper models - but they do allow the manufacturers to offer cheaper phones to cash-strapped handset manufacturers, who want to save money wherever they can, and if pennies saved today means quids foregone tomorrow, then so be it. OpenWave will probably argue this is a smartphone, on the cheap.
(OpenWave denies that opting for V7 condemns users to a world of WAP, which if the carriers have their way, is a walled-garden world of WAP, which is even more stupid and revolting. OpenWave says that the browser does real http now - so it's up to enlightened carriers not to turn this off.)
A theme of the week, as we have already suggested, is that carriers want to dictate terms to the handset manufacturers. And OpenWave's proposition plays very nicely with this.
Now this was a very good week for Symbian but the biggest competitive threat to its platform - as it has always acknowledged - isn't Microsoft or Palm but "mu", which is VoOS plus Java: where VoOS is the Vendor's Own Operating System.
Uh, look out! ®
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