Nokia, Borland partner in platform battle

New battle lines are forming as mobile-device manufacturers seek to boost their software development expertise for delivering high-speed wireless voice and data services.

Reflecting new market opportunities ahead, Nokia Corp. announced this week that it will work with U.S.-based development-tools maker Borland Software Corp. on two of its platforms: the Series 60 Platform and Symbian OS-based platform.

The software push comes as new wireless technologies such as GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and 3G (third-generation) mobile wireless technologies are being deployed by the likes of AT&T Wireless Inc. Sprint Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. are due to light up 3G (third-generation) services before the end of the year.

Borland’s Java development environments, JBuilder and JBuilder MobileSet, will be developed to include support for the Nokia Series 60 Platform, whereas Borland’s C++ development environment will be made to work with Nokia’s Symbian OS-based platform in the first half of 2002.

The Borland deal appears to be a carbon copy of what Palm managed to do when it created the so-called Palm Economy. Palm Inc.’s strategy was to help the development community write compelling applications for its device.

One mobile analyst said that Nokia is out to do the same thing. “The handset manufacturers are going to take on PDAs,” said Phil Redman, research director at Gartner Inc. in Boston. “[Handsets] are basically becoming wireless PDAs.”

Nokia set the stage for the announcement at Comdex in Las Vegas last week when it launched its open mobile architecture.

The initiative seeks to bring together many of the major handset makers and mobile-phone operators including Motorola Inc., Siemens AG, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, NTT DoCoMo Inc., and Vodafone Group PLC.

A number of key wireless carriers were, however, not part of the initiative, including Verizon, Sprint, and NexTel Communications Inc., and according to Redman, this in the long run will not serve the handset manufacturers well.

“The services providers [wireless carriers] are the ones who will decide whether it [Nokia’s mobile architecture standard] is open. An that is the key – if they don’t have all the service providers, it is pretty much meaningless,” Redman said.

Meanwhile, Java and the Java development tools from companies such as Borland may be the linchpin to creating a true interoperable standard between handheld devices.

“People think Java is a browser or an OS. [But] no, it is an application-development environment that will work on any Java-enabled device,” Redman said.

The Symbian OS used by Nokia and other handset manufacturers is Java-enabled whereas the Pocket PC OS is not.

As a data device without voice capability, there is no question that the traditional handheld manufacturers using the Palm OS or Pocket PC have market share, but when the handset manufacturers are able to offer similar software and services, the balance of power may shift.

A Symbian Ltd. official said it is not even a fair fight.

“It’s an unequal competition. Handset manufacturers ship 7 million units per week while the handhelds in aggregate have shipped about 28 million in their entire history,” said Paul Cockerton, a spokesman at Symbian, based in London.

As wireless communications begin to take centre stage with the mere capability of keeping a contact database locally, companies with a background in communications may indeed fair better.

The fact is that PDAs were developed from the perspective of a small computer in contrast to converged devices from the handset manufacturers, which not only have communications capabilities at the outset but also strong relationships with wireless carriers as well.

“If you want more computing power, go toward Palm or the Pocket PC OS, but if you want communications, then it is Symbian,” Redman said.