Ovum comment: Nokia adds widgets to S60 browser

Tony Cripps/Ovum
16 Apr 2007

Nokia today announced the addition of a full-blown XML and JavaScript-based widget application environment based on the open source-derived S60 browser. Such environments, or 'widget engines', are intended to provide graphically rich, easy to use and just as importantly easy to develop applications that tap into web-based information and content.

Web Run-Time will form part of S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2, which is set for release in the second half of 2007.

Ovum senior analyst Tony Cripps comment:

Nokia's support for web-standards-based mobile widgets lends the concept - a favourite of Ovum's - considerable credibility. Not to mention the promise of a substantial installed base for application developers to target.

Nokia Web Run-Time's adherence to web standards means that conventional web development tools can be used to create widget applications. This is a big plus point, not just for this environment but for mobile application development as a whole.

Sticking with standards helps to avoid alienating developers by allowing them to use existing skills, a factor that counts against many of Nokia's erstwhile rich mobile application technology rivals (although some, such as Adobe's Flash Lite, use essentially de facto web standards while mobile browser vendors such as Opera and Openwave typically adhere to standards).

In addition, web developers are several orders of magnitude more common than the C or C++ programmers targeted by S60's native environment and also considerably more numerous than Java ME programmers. Attracting these developers will be a key factor in the continued healthy growth of the mobile applications ecosystem.

There are some limitations to Nokia's Web Run-Time, at least initially. The first version will not require applications to be signed by Nokia. This is good from the point of view of building developer momentum as there are few barriers to entry.

However, the trade-off is that Nokia has had to isolate (or sandbox) the web runtime environment from the rest of the S60 platform to avoid the possibility of malicious widgets infecting the device. This will prevent Nokia Web Run-Time widgets from blending web-based services with device resident ones such as the device's address book.

This looks like a sensible decision to us. Scripting-based security exploits are commonplace on the desktop and we believe countermeasures need to be employed early to avoid such issues arising on mobile phones. Nokia promises to remove the sandbox in a future version once developer support and a signing process have been put in place.

The potential installed base for developers will also grow rapidly. Ovum expects some 208.3 million handsets to ship with Symbian OS in 2008, the vast majority of which will be Web Run-Time-enabled Nokia S60 devices.

So overall then, a good effort by Nokia to advance the cause of mobile widgets in a rational way.

Tony Cripps is a senior analyst and service manager of Ovum's wireless software advisory service.

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