Business as usual

Disclaimer: I am an ex-troll and my company does a lot of Qt business with Nokia

I have been reading the largely negative comments in the blogs by Aron and Daniel about the future of Qt. Sigh, the anonymous internet has made it all too simple for people to post abusive comments and suggest conspiracy theories.

I empathize with the anger; my own business relies on the Qt ecosystem. However, this decision appears to be quite logical to me. On one hand, you have Symbian. Nobody in their right mind would want a Symbian future, let alone pitch it as the competitor for Android or iOS. If you think that line requires justification, you shouldn’t be reading this article, move along :) Second, MeeGo. I am going to speculate here since I have not seen the actual harmattan/MeeGo UI. So, let’s say we have something like the Intel MeeGo tablet shown at MWC. Shocking, no? They are “working” on Copy&Paste, zooming is slow, opening the app causes lots of flicker, the scrolling looks laggy and the presenter is defensive. Continuing my speculation, assuming Nokia’s UX is in a similar state, what would you as a CEO do? I mean, this is the state _today_, imagine 5 months back. I would just drop MeeGo and try shopping for the software elsewhere.

I believe that’s what has happened. Nokia had to make a tough call because MeeGo doesn’t appear to be shippable anytime soon. Some people are of the opinion that choosing an alternate OS is pointless because by the time one adapts to the new OS, one can clean up MeeGo. I think one reason here could be that Elop&Co simply lost confidence in their developers after seeing the state of MeeGo. Another reason probably is that Maemo has always been a research project inside Nokia. MeeGo was announced exactly a year back at MWC 2010. I don’t think Nokia internally ever took it out of the ‘research project’ mode. Yes, they had a little flirt with it trying to make it the main platform but they quickly seem to have discovered it’s not ready (Ballmer mentions that they started talks back in Nov 2010).

So, they now have to choose between Android and WP7. I simply don’t see how Nokia can compete with the existing vendors who have a big head start with Android phones. Back here in India, everybody and their great grandmother are _shipping_ Android phones. Motorola, LG, Samsung, HTC, Videocon (yes, that washing machine company), Dell, Sony, Acer, Micromax, Olive (yes, 10, that I know of!) are already shipping Android phones across all price ranges. With the upcoming cricket world cup and IPL, I expect lot more Android phones to be advertised. A Nokia android phone will be indistinguishable in this crowd. So, personally, I would go with WP7 too as there is some hope for differentiation. With WP7, Nokia can hopefully put pressure on MS (who wants this whole thing to succeed badly for their own future) to deliver on the software.

All this talk of conspiracy theories is quite baseless. Elop cannot make unilateral decisions, that’s not how companies work. He obviously requires the support of the directors. If the share holders think this is a bad decision, they can fire the board of directors but I don’t see this happening. If my speculation about MeeGo’s current state is correct, all it takes is to show the share holders the current MeeGo prototype and that would be the end of discussion.

It’s also a good decision for Nokia for not considering Qt port on WP7. Heck, Qt/Symbian local compilation support on Linux/Mac isn’t there (for what 2 years?) with Nokia having complete control over all the software layers – the toolkit, IDE, OS. Qt on WP7 is a massive massive investment. It is probably a worthwhile undertaking that project after Nokia/WP7 is successful.

FWIW, we all have to be happy that Nokia has been open about this even before it has done anything about it. I, for one, totally appreciate their Openness. So, before you pour out your hate for Nokia, please remember that this is just business as usual. At the end of the day, they have to pay salaries. They have had to disappoint us developers for their own survival. If you are going to argue that MeeGo was truly groundbreaking and what not – please put your money on MeeGo, start your own company and ship MeeGo devices instead of pointing fingers at Nokia.

Where does this leave Qt? Qt has taken a bit big hit because of this decision. This decision means that Qt has suddenly become lot less relevant. I expect the MeeGo phone to be only as successful as the n900. I don’t expect MeeGo or Qt to die inside Nokia until WP7 phones are wildly popular. One single phone, that has been delayed over and over again and that has been sidelined into research does not give me a lot of confidence. Personally, I was hoping for this uber-awesome device for which I can build and _sell_ great applications.

My view is that Qt’s future lies outside Nokia. The Qt fanboy I am, I will do everything I can to keep Qt going. Qt has a very good future in the embedded space (settop boxes, IVI etc). Many companies I met at CES this year were committed to using Qt. For them to continue using Qt, the open governance model simply has to happen. Now. Qt has to be seen as a toolkit that has constant progress with an active community. Ports of Android, iOS can then become part of main stream. If this does not happen soon, future companies are just going to switch over to Android for their devices.