We went over to the San Francisco edition of the Nokia 770 party. It was a very small event, so I had a lot of time to talk to the Nokia folks who were there. I’ve been doing Linux embedded systems programming for a long time so I was really jazzed when I heard about the device. I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen so far in playing with the 770, and I was hoping that this is just the start of a major forray into more open platforms for mobile and special purpose devices. Everything I heard at the event indicates that Nokia very much views this as the start of a learning experience about this new device category and platform ecosystem. Creating a device based on an open source operating system with a thriving developer community is certainly going to be different than creating devices based on Symbian. There are lots of benefits and pitfalls on both sides, and going forward successfully is going to require carying learnings from the different environments back and forth without making too many assumptions. My biased opinion is that Linux will start appearing on normal handsets as soon as Nokia and the community fully grok how to work together. And it’ll appear in a real natively user extensible form rather than the “host for a Java sandbox” versions that are out in the market now. Please, oh God please let it start appearing on handsets!
Of course, there was a lot of talk about the multimedia functions of the device. The Nokia folks there very much had the vision of the device as the control unit for a cloud of digital entertainment systems pulling content from the Internet. Lots of talk about new models for media, how to respond to the decoupling of content from broadcast channels, support for different standards, and digital rights management. Also a lot of talk about the browser, probably because I brought it up. There’s always a degree of push and pull in mobile solutions between “always on” connected devices and syncronization. Should information live on the server and be accessed on the device as needed? Or should it be pulled down to all the different locations in which it’s used and consolidated using discreet actions? I’m not going to try to lay out all the arguments on different sides, it’s definitely a complex issue. But if we’re going to see “always on” style services I think that evolving the mobile browser is going to be one of the keys. It makes sense to let the information live online in some contexts, but only if access to it is ubiquitous and fluid. Kludgey interfaces from the mobile make having the information online almost as much of a hinderance as not having it at all. The mobile browser has to provide an interface that can be as functional as a native app, as friendly from a UI perspective and as responsive. Custom applications to access the data just really don’t qualify in my book. The browser for the mobile has to mold itself to the same web as exists for the PC, or vice versa. With way way more users on the mobile side… why isn’t the mobile web driving the wired web instead of vice-versa?