A look at Windows Phone 7 Series, Samsung Bada OS, MeeGo, Symbian 3 -- the new kids on the mobile phone block
We caught a glimpse of what the future of smartphones might be like, with the announcement of the launch of four new mobile operating systems, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. While Samsung’s Bada OS is now available on the shelves in the form of the good-looking Samsung Wave S8500, the other three, Windows Phone 7 series OS, Intel & Nokia’s collaborative MeeGo OS, and the Symbian^3 OS - will be launched later this year, with the hardware that will host them remaining a mystery. Let us take a look at what we know about these four OSes, and how they might change the way we use our smartphones.
Samsung’s Bada OS
Heralded as a “complete smartphone platform”, Samsung’s long awaited Bada is a developer friendly OS that will run “high-performance native apps and services”. Starting with the Wave, it will roll out in many of Samsung’s touch mobile handsets in 2010, and officially inviting third-party developers to work with its open-source code, hoping to enjoy the resulting range of applications and customizations for its users, including Samsung’s Apps. This is why the OS has been named Bada, after the Korean word for ocean or sea, indicating the vast variety of potential applications which can be created using the new open platform.
Based on Samsung’s TouchWiz User Interface, Bada’s software development kit (SDK) is already available for developers to use, allowing them to easily implement flash control, web control, motion sensing, fine-tuned vibration control, and face detection in their applications, along with a variety of sensors (such as accelerometers, tilt, weather, proximity, and activity) that will support sensor-based, context-aware applications. A measure of Samsung’s complete embracing of the open-source way can be seen in the Developer Challenge, that will be a chance for developers to win a share of a US$2,700,000 prize fund, by building a wide variety of applications for Bada devices. Samsung will also announce a series of Developer Days that will be held across the world this year, starting with Seoul, London and San Francisco, which will be open to all developers. Samsung’s current development partners include such heavies as the micro blogging service Twitter, movies and games rental outlet Blockbuster, and iconic videogame developers such as CAPCOM, EA Mobile, and Gameloft.
Supporting various service-oriented features, Bada will also offer native social networking, device synchronization, content management, location-based services, and commerce services. Bada also supports Open GL ES 2.0 for advanced gaming capabilities and Immersion's TouchSense Player for haptic functionality. Another interesting feature is the Lifelog, which allows developers to create intelligent call logs.
Samsung Bada’s architecture is interesting, and is made up of four distinctive layers: the kernel layer (based on a real-time OS or Linux kernel, depending on hardware configuration), the device layer (providing all the core functions such as system and security management, data protocols and telephony, audio-visual and multimedia management, etc.), the service layer, and the innovative framework layer, which will allow developers to export standard open APIs in C++, and consists of application framework and functions exported by underlying layers. The OS will be customizable with advanced widgets and home screen functionality, and versatile enough to Sync mail, calendar, and contacts from a web account to the mobile. On the marketplace front, users can easily download their required applications from Samsung Apps, via WiFi or cellular connection. Also interesting is the Social Hub service, which is Samsung’s new integrated messaging service in partnership with major portals, and a messaging service that is centered on Contacts. Being push based, it also removes the need to constantly log in and out of other networks.
The first example of a Bada-using device, the just launched Samsung Wave S8500, has notably not ironed out all its flaws. However its potential is exciting, with its stunning 3.3 inch capacitive AMOLED screen, and the ability to multitask with more than 512MB of RAM and a 1 GHz processor. It is also the first phone to feature Bluetooth 3.0, and also offers GPS receiver with A-GPS. On the multimedia front it supports 5.1 virtual surround sound, playback of DivX/XviD video, and a 5 MP camera with autofocus and 720p HD video recording and playback.
Nokia & Intel's MeeGo
Yet to be launched, there is no real hands-on data available about Intel’s and Nokia’s collaborative MeeGo OS at present, but here’s what we know.
A fusion of their respective Linux platforms, Maemo and Moblin, Intel and Nokia declared their long-term relationship about 8 months ago, a unified platform that will be used in a variety of devices from mobile phones to tablets to netbooks and in-vehicle infotainment systems. Like the Bada, the MeeGo will be open-source and developer friendly, and will embrace Intel and Nokia's developer programs, Intel Atom Developer Program and Nokia Forum (using Nokia's cross-platform application development framework Qt), allowing them to create applications for anything from the Nokia Symbian S60 devices to Linux, Windows and MacOS X. These apps will be made available on both Nokia's Ovi Store and Intel's AppUp store. MeeGo will feature "visually rich graphics, multitasking and multimedia capabilities and the best application performance", and will be available in the second half of this year, hosted by the Linux Foundation. As explained by the president and CEO of Intel, MeeGo will allow seamless communication “between computing devices from the home, auto, office or your pocket”. MeeGo will also support ARM architecture and Intel's own Atom processors. The source code, SDK, and other details will also be made available soon, allowing the development of applications before the launch of the OS and its supporting hardware.
Aiming to avoid fragmentation, the cross-platform approach of MeeGo is unique, and it will be really interesting what will happen when it is used by other mobile manufacturers besides just Nokia, giving the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android-based phones a real run for their money. Applications written for MeeGo will be able to work on multiple device types regardless of manufacturer, giving users the ability to easily migrate their applications when switching between devices. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia's CEO, emphatically stated that the MeeGo will not completely replace Symbian, saying that “Symbian is alive and Symbian is strong”.
Windows Phone 7 Series
Announced by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the Mobile World Congress, the much delayed Windows Mobile 7 will be launched at the end of this year, branded as Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7). Designed for “Life in Motion” the Ballmer unveiled a prototype device that he called “a different kind of phone”, which will “redefine what a phone can do for people”, integrating the “Web, applications and content in an intuitive way”. A complete rewrite from WinMo 6.5.5, WP7 will also bring such services such as the popular MS music player Zune and games platform Xbox LIVE to the phone for the first time.
A key differentiator from other smartphones, most notably the numerous small icons on the iPhone’s home screen, the Windows Phone’s home screen will feature large, colourful and customizable icons atop a black background. Called “live tiles”, they will update themselves with relevant information, such as calendar appointments and reminders, status updates, weather information, and more. Aiming to be more intuitive, the home screen will feature only what Microsoft believes is required there, without the clutter of hundreds of small icons. The new OS will also be centred on ‘hubs’, each a grouped amalgamation of local and dynamic online content, making it easier for users to smoothly access their now-well-categorised information. The various hubs include: the Office Hub, which will let users access their mobile documents, Outlook e-mail, and other Microsoft Exchange functionalities. The People Hub will display feeds from the user’s social networks, organise contacts and friends, and easily contact them via SMS, IM, e-mail, etc. Native integration of Facebook and Twitter has also been announced. The Multimedia Hub is for photos, music, and videos, similar to the Zune’s interface. The Games Hub will provide numerous local and online games, as well as synchronization with XBOX LIVE, allowing users to chat with their fellow gamers on their friends’ list, share statistics, watch game demos, and hopefully remotely control the XBOX console’s downloads. Proximity or location is also a built-in feature of the phone, making it easier to access local news, services, and information while on the move.
Applications have become a major selling point for smartphones, and the iPhone, with its Apple App Store, is considered to be way ahead of the competition, leaving Nokia, BlackBerry, Samsung, and Android phones in the dust. Microsoft has a major task ahead of it, if it intends its ‘Marketplace’ to compete with the App Store, which already has more than 150,000 applications available. The OS will also feature an application manager, allowing you to install, update, and sort applications with your convenience.
Another interesting announcement was that Microsoft will not support flash on the WP7, a move that might not hold many surprises for regular Apple iPhone users. Also noteworthy, is that Joe Belfiore, Director of Windows Phone, hinted that the OS may only support selective multitasking, like the iPhone, calling “the core operating system” “a modern multitasking operating system”. This will probably just allow you to use an application while still retaining the ability to receive e-mails, calls, texts, etc., and listen to music simultaneously. Using more than one third party application at the same time is a no-no, but Belfiore said that they will try to make it as functional as possible, by allowing data feeds in hubs, as well as in the live tiles. Search on Bing will also be instantly accessible with a click of a button, and the possibility of allowing a choice of search engine has not been ruled out.
As for being an open-source OS, Microsoft has revealed that it will closely collaborate with developers, but not fully release its code, allowing more third-party customization than Apple, but not as much as the Samsung, Nokia, Symbian or Google. Developers though, can look forward to Microsoft’s legendary documentation and support.
Symbian^3 OS (S^3)
The Symbian Foundation announced the release of its new Symbian^3 operating system at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona yesterday. Heralded to be Symbian’s first fully-open source mobile operating system, Symbian^3 provides some much needed updates on its prior versions, as well as some great new user-oriented functionalities.
The feature-complete release is scheduled for the end of the first quarter, which means that the first phones to start using the S^3 OS will be only available later this year, giving developers plenty of time to design applications and customize features till then.
Here are some of the new features of the S^3 OS:
Full Multi-Touch Support – A much needed refinement over the previous version, users can now use gestures to control their phone, including pinch-and-zoom, and flick-and-scroll. A single-tap paradigm has also been implemented, reducing the number of taps/clicks required per operation.
HDMI Support – A great idea, Symbian now lets users enjoy full 1080p high definition external playback on their monitors or televisions.
Radio & Music Store Integration – Enables automatic identification of songs on both the radio and music store, along with more information about them. Also new is the convenient placement of the ‘buy now’ button in the same screen.
Writable Data Paging – Allows for more efficient memory management, which in turn lets more applications run in parallel, for a more efficient multi-tasking experience, and a great improvement over older Symbians.
New 2D & 3D Graphics Architecture – Gives users the full advantage of hardware acceleration, enabling a faster and more responsive user interface, as well as visual enhancements, and smooth transitions, and when combined with OpenGL ES, also provides a platform for high performance games.
New Networking Architecture – Ready for 4G networks, with optimized use of bandwidth, leading to lower latency times and less jitter. Ideal for VoIP and media content streaming.
One-Click Connectivity – Simplifies the process of connecting to the Internet, without causing interruptions for the user. Also allows platform-wide behaviour and global settings, easily switching between networks, something the older Symbian would have become confused doing.
Multiple Widgets – Attractive and useful new home screen which has multiple pages of widgets along with simple flicking between them. A widget manager will also make it easier to find, download, and categorize widgets. Support for multiple instances of a native widget allows users to monitor multiple widgets simultaneously, such as weather forecasts, news feeds, social networking and e-mail accounts, through a single common interface.
Executive Director of the Symbian Foundation, Lee M. Williams, said that "S^3 is another huge milestone in the evolution of our platform. Now that it is fully open source, the door is open to individual contributors, device creators and third-party developer companies". While talking about the new multi-touch support, Ian Hutton, Chairman of Symbian's Features & Roadmap Council mentioned that there will also be “support for third party developers to add extra gestures if they want to", as well as continuing support for non-touch phones. Also to be kept in mind is the fact that Symbian^4 is in the pipeline as well, and is on track to be released by the end of the 2010.
The four new mobile operating systems certainly have their work cut out for them, with the stiff competition of the iPhone, and its innumerable applications and users. However, while the iPhone is a user-friendly experience that is very popular with consumers, the business end of users have no use for it, and most prefer the BlackBerry, or other smartphones with simpler and more intuitive enterprise functions than it. Here, WP7, with Microsoft’s long standing enterprise relationships, will have a distinctive advantage, while what Nokia/Intel’s MeeGo, Symbian^3, and Samsung’s Bada do to tap into this market, is yet to be seen.
Flash support, a controversial and raging debate these days between Adobe and Apple, will also be a differentiator, with the WP7 confirming that it will go the iPhone way, and not offer it. While MeeGo’s stance on this is not known yet, both Samsung’s Bada and Symbian ^3 offer it, and this may go a long way in making their web-browsing experience more wholesome, if the Flash-support is sufficiently-well optimized.
Multitasking will also be a point to consider, as the iPhone and the WP7 (at least the working prototype displayed at MWC) offer limited ability in this sphere. In fact, copy/paste functionality is as of yet not perfected in the WP7, a serious blow to MS’ image. Samsung’s Bada in its Wave form however, with its large RAM and fast processor, claims to be a good multitasking unit, though it remains to be seen, as does how MeeGO will perform in its hardware avatar. The Writable Data Paging of the Symbian, with its improved memory management, seems to put Symbian in the lead (only time will tell), though the hardware & RAM size will obviously be a factor.
Last, but not the least, is the obvious comparison between the open-source nature of the S^3, MeeGo and Bada, as opposed to the semi-closed nature of Apple’s and Microsoft’s efforts. Developers have however, not let this stand too much in the way of their job on the iPhone, with innumerable applications easily available in the App Store. But, this may very well be the deciding factor in years to come, as the very nature of open-source will put almost no limits on customization and variety, though quality assurance may become a pain. Other competitors, like Research in Motion, Palm, Qualcomm, and Sun Microsystems, are all also trying to build and encourage developer communities for their operating systems.
Comparisons have long been drawn between Google's Open Handset Alliance and the Symbian Foundation, both third party alliances of partners that manufacture the phones/devices. While Google’s Android OS, an already successful open-source platform, has certainly paved the way for the three new open-source operating systems, the Symbian Foundation will finally enjoy a more equal footing with this release of its first fully-open source OS, the S^3.
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