Nokia’s Trolltech buy will spawn new open source mobile apps

Through its acquisition of Norwegian mobile software firm Trolltech ASA, Nokia will get a firmer grip on the open source mobile application market, telecommunications analysts say.

They say Finland-based Nokia Corp. hopes to attract open source-savvy third party developers capable of creating applications that work over the Internet, across Nokia’s own device portfolio, and even on personal computers.

According to Monday’s joint announcement by the two firms Nokia has offered $153 million for all the shares of Trolltech.

Trolltech’s board has unanimously recommended that its shareholders accept the offer.

“Nokia wants to be a key player in the open source market. But to achieve that, it has to attract the right kind of developers,” said Michael Rozender, principal of Rozender Consultants International, an Oakville, Ont.-based wireless technology firm.

He said Nokia’s decision was possibly a response to Google’s entry into the mobile phone market with its own purchase of Android Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif.-based maker of mobile phone software products based on the open sourced Linux operating system.

The search company previously hammered out agreements with wireless carriers, handset makers and developers to create a framework for creating mobile applications.

A spokesperson for the Finnish cell phone manufacturer, however, downplayed the Linux angle.

“The deal is not about building Linux devices. It’s all about acquiring the tools, people and expertise to create cross platform applications,” said Mark Durrant, director of communications for Nokia.

Trolltech develops QTopia, a framework used to build interfaces for mobile and embedded devices and Qt, a cross-system, application development tool kit available under commercial and open source licenses.

Qt is also used in a variety of desktop software including Skype’s Internet telephony application, the Google Earth satellite photo browser, and Adobe Photoshop album.

“With Qt, we can get into the promotion and development of software that can run in various mobile devices and even the PC,” Durrant said.

Open source mobile applications are hugely popular in Europe but not in North America, according to a Toronto-based software analyst.

“It is still very new here,” said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst for IDC Canada.

However, the addition of Trolltech to Nokia’s properties will speed up open source development within the cell phone company, he said.

Open source tools hold a big attraction for mobile software developers because of the flexibility and speed to production they offer, said another analyst.

Such tools are “open to a worldwide community of minds. Development of applications using these tools is much faster compared to other proprietary platforms such as RIM’s BlackBerry or Microsoft’s Windows Mobile,” noted Michelle Warren of Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

She also said Linux-based applications could boost mobile security. “Linux is considered to be more stable than Windows which has more viruses written for it.”

Developers in the mobile telecommunications field are also clamouring for a standardized development tools to enable cross-platform performance, said Rozender.

Unlike the desktop computing arena, which is dominated by the Window OS for PC, the Mac OS for Apple computers and Linux in the open source space, the mobile market has more players, he said. Among the leaders are Symbian in Western Europe, Brew in North America, Java.Net for mobile PC, Palm and J2ME, the Microsoft edition of Java.

“The problem for users is that applications for one device or system often does not port to or operate properly in another,” Rozender said.

He said it is still too early to tell what sort of features or capabilities will appear on Nokia cell phones as a result of the Trolltech purchase.

But the wireless technology expert said mobile applications enjoying popularity in Europe might soon appear in North America.

Among these are: cell phone enabled payments, location band services that incorporate mapping and global positioning system (GPS) technology, service- and entertainment-oriented widgets and RSS feeds.

With greater software developments, mobile phones will also increasingly become wedded to social networking, said Warren.”We’ll begin to see sites such as Facebook popping up on larger phone screens.”

However, it will take some time for developments to have an impact on large enterprises, she said.

As consumers adopt the new features, they will gradually bring the devices into the enterprise. This development will spur IT departments to put down special security policies to deal with the situation, Warren said.

“Just as policies had to be developed to deal with security issues around BlackBerries, flash drives, and then access to social networks from within the office, IT managers will have to create regulations governing the use of devices with these enhanced features.”

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