SurfKitchen has announced it’s SurfKit Mobile platform will now support Windows Mobile devices, ahead of an expected customer deployment in August with an Asian operator. The company already supports Symbian and Java in its existing operator rollouts with O2, TIM, Telefonica and others.
SurfKit enables dynamic customisation of the user experience, including caching content locally on the device and over-the-air updates. Users can browse rich graphical menus without relying on a network connection, reducing the latency inherent in browsing traditional operator portals for ringtones, games and other downloads.
While Windows Mobile smartphones have always been customisable on a hardware level, mainly because most of them are manufactured by ODMs without brand ambitions of their own, there has been less effort made to customise the software interfaces. One reason may be that operators have always positioned these devices at the high-end of the market and wanted to use the familiar Windows Mobile interface as a selling point with business customers.
Other UX platform providers, such as Action Engine, have supported Windows Mobile for some time. However, these deployments have tended to focus on individual applications (such as the Orange automatic back-up solution which was part of the first ever Windows Mobile smartphone deployment) rather than customising the overall device experience.
As Microsoft and its ODM partners work to reduce the cost of the Windows Mobile devices and operators experiment with launching them to mid-market customers, there is likely to be an increase in demand for software platforms which offer dynamic customisation.
Of course, where Microsoft is involved, there is also the possibility such capabilities may eventually be rolled into a future release of the core OS, especially as Redmond seeks additional ways to differentiate its offering from competitors such as Symbian and MontaVista, who prefer to rely on third party solutions for this sort of thing. Qualcomm has already taken steps down this route by acquiring Trigenix and integrating it into BREW as uiOne.
Perhaps OS providers are starting to realise they can’t define the actual specifics of the interface used by operators, but they can at least tie them into using a particular technology to power that interface? If that is the case, there’s every chance third party user experience platform providers, such as SurfKitchen and Action Engine, will make attractive acquisition targets for players with wider ambitions of providing an integrated OS, applications suite and UI layer.
Feels like a step back in time…Symbian tried this in the early days of its existence (remember the Crystal, Pearl, Quartz interfaces?) and found that its handset manufacturer partners clearly had an agenda of their own where interfaces were concerned – namely, they wanted to retain control. Symbian was among the first OS providers to decide to step back from the interface layer entirely, concentrating on the core OS and handing responsibility to Nokia TP (Series 60), UIQ Technologies and – in the case of DoCoMo – the operator itself has defined its own interface.
It is a confusing picture, with some favouring a fully ‘open’ approach, splitting responsibility across the value chain to independent providers of OS, applications and user interface, while others seek an integrated platform. Many in the industry have been looking to the Open Mobile Terminal Platforms (OMTP) initiative for guidance, but it has been remarkably quiet in its public activities so far this year. Perhaps Mats Nilson, Managing Director of the OMTP, will be able to offer additional clarification when he speaks at MEX in September.
I expect these issues to form a significant part of the debate at MEX and we’ll be joined by several operators (including Orange, Vodafone and T-Mobile) as well as SurfKitchen, Action Engine and Symbian. We’ll also be hearing from many of the UX experts who have to work on the front line with these technologies, designing interfaces and integrated with the industrial design of the handsets.