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So we were never talking about hardware, although hardware that is already available may need to be tweaked or be a reference specification to accommodate the minimum that a service needs. And it was never going to be an operating system – who wants to re-write Linux or Symbian again or re-define how the inner workings of a series of storage, processing and radio elements work together.

At the very least these are linked applications – because in a handset the smallest kernel possible, taking up the least power possible – means that as few applications should be running at any given time, as possible. So not one big monolithic block, but tiny feature function add-ons. But when your handset signals your whereabouts to a friend, it shouldn’t do it at the expense of your voice processing, or have your video playback stall, so it has to do two things at once, in a very controlled way, where quality of experience is guaranteed at the device level.

So there we are reaching down into the hardware and operating software with QoE imperatives that are little more than tweaks, to ensure that a phone’s virus software doesn’t take up all the processing cycles, as it does on all our PCs, when we are trying to watch today’s best goals on the phone. So perhaps it’s a more of an embedded or multilayered common application platform, a little more like when Microsoft first incorporated Word and Excel into a suite on the PC, which from memory was around 1985/6.

Now many of the applications are already written for the PC. It would be a shame (and impossible) to re-write the browser – we tried that with WAP and no-one would build WAP sites. IM has been widely embraced as a replacement for MMS and perhaps SMS, on the handset already. Google search on a browser is now an applet, but it needs expanding and re-writing to take advantage of Google Maps and GPS chips (which in turn show how inspired the purchase of mapping service Navteq was by Nokia, which underpins the Google service).

In fact most of these applications are already alive and well on Google and they are also already integrated through the use of a browser, what is missing is the adaptation to a device which knows where it is, and the enablement of that device as a generic web viewer.

Rules of engagement

But it can take some imagination. What are the rules deciding who can know where you are physically. What are the rules about who can know what it is you are up to right now and how much more difficult will these be to manage than PC applications. What are the rules to be about allowing advertising a location sense, along with some understanding of who is viewing the adverts?

But after those decisions, essentially the job of creating a phone these days is to ensure that the hardware is up to the job, and to preload a number of widgets and apps that appear like they are all part of one environment. In Google’s case it can mean the creation of a few more web based, server driven, applications - which is what Google is known for.

The acquisition this week by Google of a Finnish company, one that has grown up in the shadow of Nokia, called Jaiku, gives another part of the picture, which is a mobile presence sharing system which also works with PCs. It tells people, where you have authorized it, your whereabouts, what you are doing, how you are feeling and your availability for chat or other activities. These messages are shared with other users, who can add comments. The system uses SMS messaging on a Nokia Series 60 client or any Java device, to send these updates.

All of this, apart from the Jaiku acquisition could have been deduced by just trying to picture what you would do with handsets if you were Google.

And yet still The NY Times refers to this as an operating system, rivaling the largely failed Windows Mobile. But it goes on to say that it will be Open Source and free to handset vendors with no licensing fee – as long as they use it to deliver Google advertising.

We know that Nokia has already stated that it wants to go down this route, but with Ballmer’s claims it means that Microsoft too has to go down the same route. But with both Nokia and Google perhaps ahead in the mobile advertising game, how on Earth is Microsoft going to find $14bn of advertising revenue in the mobile and fixed internet?

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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