2 lakh Indian programmers wary of Nokia’s moves


Nokia’s recent decision to outsource development of Symbian software — the operating system which runs its handsets — to Accenture, has put two-lakh Indian software programmers in turmoil.
As part of the deal, Nokia is also transferring 3,000 employees — 700 of them from Bangalore — to Accenture. Indian Symbian programmers, who are not Nokia employees but independently develop mobile applications (mobile apps) for its handsets, say they also face an uncertain future.

Several programmers Deccan Herald spoke to said Nokia was getting ready to phase out the Symbian software as it had decided to switch to Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system (WP).

Most app developers work for small companies, which typically employ less than 10 people, and do outsourced application development work. “The end of Symbian is in sight and that has put tremendous pressure on small companies,” said a mid-level Infosys employee. Infosys is working with independent developers to promote Flypp, its mobile application platform.

“They will have to retrain their employees on other platforms such as Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS and lose revenue at least for a few months. This will hit hard many small companies, which barely manage to break even,” he said. “Besides, the uncertainty of doing business on a new platform, they will need at least two years to catch up with other companies already doing business on other platforms,” he added.

Murugan, who runs a seven-member company, said Symbian was a tougher platform to programme than Android and iOS. “My team took nearly a year to learn Symbian well and in the last two years we have built 12 applications. Now I am not sure if our expertise will have any use in future.”

Globally all mobile apps together are expected to generate a revenue of $3.8 billion in 2011 for various application stores, according to research firm iSuppli. As apps have also become critical to the sales of smart phones, handset manufacturers and software providers are wooing independent programmers to develop applications on their platforms.

While Apple and Google are ahead of the race in USA, Nokia, given its dominance in markets such as India and China, has built a strong base of Symbian developers. Over the last few years it has aggressively wooed Indian programmers, who reportedly now form one of the largest chunks of Symbian developers in the world.

But as Nokia started losing market share to Apple and Android phones, it decided to switch to Microsoft’s operating system WP, after exploring few other software options.

Sharing his perspective on the decline of Symbian, Dhaval Sharma, an Android programmer, said, “Symbian is neither user nor developer friendly; developing an application is much easier on Android. Nokia also failed to capitalise on the touch-screen trend and hence lost market to Apple and Android phones.”

Dispelling the fears of app developers, a Nokia spokesperson in an emailed response to Deccan Herald said “We have not specified a date when the last Symbian device will ship, but will (continue to) release more products on Symbian and modernise it,” she said.

There are 200 million Symbian customers and Nokia plans to ship 150 million more devices, she informed. She also added that Nokia will continue to support products based on Symbian platforms for years to come. But many developers feel that Nokia is getting ready to bury Symbian quietly. Murugan said there was no long-term future for Symbian beyond existing devices and planned launches. “Nokia may not say it, but Symbian wont last beyond three years,” he said. “Symbian will die and that is the bottom line,” said Sharma.

There is also uncertainty on Ovi Store among developers, where Nokia hosts Symbian applications. Ovi Store attracts 5 million downloads and 300,000 new users daily. “What happens to our Symbian applications on Ovi Store when Nokia fully shifts to Windows,” Murugan asked. “Nokia’s Ovi Store would support apps for Symbian, MeeGo, Series 40 and Nokia Windows Phones,” the Nokia spokeswoman said. ”Apps currently on Ovi Store would need to be rewritten using Silverlight or XNA for Windows Phone,” she added emphasising on the non-Symbian future of Ovi Store.

Some developers are, however, are optimistic. “Nokia-Microsoft combination will offer better opportunities for Indian developers in the long run,” said Sagar Bedmutha, CEO of Optinno, which has developed the award-winning Spam Blocker application.

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This post was submitted by prashant agarwal.

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