Nokia is spending $153m to acquire Trolltech, a privately held Norwegian ISV that develops app frameworks for desktop and cellular devices whose largest customer on the mobile side is Nokia competitor Motorola.
The acquisition of Oslo-based Trolltech was announced by the Finnish telecoms equipment vendor as being designed to accelerate [its] software strategy, though it could almost be thought of as turbo-charging Espoo-based Nokia’s move into services too.
Trolltech’s flagship technology platform is the Qt app framework, designed to facilitate app development on a develop once, run anywhere basis, in that it injects an abstraction layer between the app and the underlying operating system. This suits Nokia’s strategy very well, as enunciated in its recently announcement of its Ovi initiative whereby services will be able to run across web, PC, and mobile platforms. Trolltech have proven technology in cross-platform development and there is a good synergy here for Nokia, said Adam Leach, principal analyst with Ovum, a Datamonitor company.
In recent times Trolltech has been best known for the Qtopia version of the framework, which was developed for use in mobile phones and has as its biggest customer Motorola, which is currently the number-three handset manufacturer worldwide behind Nokia and Samsung. Indeed, Motorola has recently reaffirmed its commitment to using the Trolltech for its Linux-based phones.
The Trolltech acquisition leaves Motorola in an awkward position, said Leach. It leaves Motorola beholden to Nokia for a key part of its technology strategy, a situation it was eager to avoid.
In terms of Nokia’s own product portfolio, the Finnish company clearly remains committed to the Symbian mobile OS, or which it is the largest shareholder and licensee. However, it stated in announcing the acquisition that it would further increase the competitiveness of Series 60 and Series 40.
The Series 60 is the company’s main user interface for Symbian devices, while the Series 40 is based on a proprietary OS and so is more for low-end feature phones. The fact that it plans to support Qt on both platforms is indicative of its design to maximize the availability of apps to run on them, regardless of the underlying OS.
Leach took the two scenarios separately. On S40, he said adoption of Qt will drastically increase the addressable market for Qt-based applications and for the first time give a credible alternative to writing Java applications. It also raises the competitiveness of Series 40 against its internal rival S60, so could lead to a slower replacement of Series 40 by S60, a fact that, in turn, could result in smaller business opportunities for Symbian.
On S60, he said: The support of Qt by S60 will be the first environment that will allow developers to write full applications (including UI) without using the native Symbian-based application framework. (As a result), Nokia has the option to migrate its S60 application to Qt and benefit from increased portability and less dependency on Symbian OS. This will have little short-term impact for Symbian, but increases the likelihood that in the long term, it will have to compete against erosion from within existing customers from Linux-based platforms.
While the prospects for Symbian within Nokia and without are intriguing as a result of the Trolltech acquisition, it is clearly what this means for the Norwegians’ relationship with Motorola that raises the biggest questions.
For instance, Trolltech recently announced its membership of the LiMo Foundation, a mobile Linux standardization body founded by Motorola, Vodafone, and others. Will Nokia maintain that membership, now that Google seeks to drive its Linux-based Android platform as a standard for the open source OS on mobile devices?
And where will Motorola go for its app framework for Linux phones now? GTK+ is an alternative, which ironically has been the choice until now of Nokia’s own Linux platform, Maemo, though presumably that will change. Another would be the Access Linux Platform out of Japan.