Nokia, Apple On An Open-Source 'Safari'

Nokia and Apple Computer are working together on an open-source surprise for smartphone users: a mobile Web browser that actually browses the Web.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 20, 2005

4 Min Read

Nokia says it is developing a new Web browser, using open-source components from Apple's Safari browser, for use in future versions of Nokia's Series 60 smartphones.

Nokia is collaborating with Apple on the project, which uses Safari's open-source WebCore and JavaScriptCore frameworks. Nokia said it will continue to work with Apple on future versions of the browser and said it would also contribute its mobile software development expertise to the open-source community.

The WebCore and JavaScriptCore frameworks are based on the cross-platform KHTML and KJS libraries, both part of the open-source KDE project. Apple optimized both libraries for its OS X operating system and released them under the Free Software Foundation's LGPL open-source license.

Nokia decided to work with Apple and to use open-source components after closely examining its browser options. Developing a new, fully functional browser from scratch would have cost about $100 million, said Franklin Davis, head of business development, Series 60 browsing for Nokia. He said the company also considered licensing a proprietary mobile browser from another vendor, but given Nokia's volumes, the cost would have been prohibitive.

Nokia looked at other, existing open-source browsers, Davis said, including Mozilla, which proved to be too large to run on a smartphone. Safari is smaller and has a cleaner architecture, he added, giving Nokia room to innovate on top of the browser's core components.

Last year, according to a Nokia spokesperson, Nokia made a small financial investment in Minimo, the Mozilla Foundation's effort to develop a mobile browser based on Mozilla code. She couldn't specify why Nokia chose not to use Minimo for its Series 60 smartphones, but she said that size, performance and optimization for the mobile device environment are factors the company has considered. Nokia is still involved with Minimo, but the investment did not represent an endorsement or prioritization of Minimo, she said.

Nokia also supports the Opera browser as a third-party product on the Series 60 platform. In the future, Series 60 devices will come with Nokia's new browser, but Series 60 licensees could also choose to use the Opera browser as an add-on.

The new browser is expected to improve the Web surfing capabilities of mobile phones and will allow them to display any Web pages built using standard HTML, Davis said. Opera's mobile browser also enables full access to HTML pages.

Historically, phone manufacturers have used browsers that require Web site developers to tweak their sites to render properly on mobile handsets. But a few technological changes have converged to enable support for full Web browsing. Many new handsets have larger screens, faster processors, enough memory to hold a complete Web page, and faster data connections, Davis said. The new browser could also benefit end users if it attracts a sizeable base of open-source developers. Currently, Nokia, Siemens, and Sendo all build phones based on the Series 60 platform, creating an attractive environment for developers who want to build products for the biggest possible user base. "The strength of open source is it has a wealth of companies that are investing in products and can add expertise and resources to them," said Geoff Blaber, an analyst with IDC's European mobile devices team.

Nokia wouldn't comment on the possibility of collaborating with Apple beyond the companies' work on the browser, but some analysts say it's a possibility. "Apple hasn't got experience in terms of integration of voice with a device, so that type of partnership would make some sense," said Blaber. Still, he cautioned that it might be a stretch to begin envisioning a device made by Apple and Nokia just because the two have worked together on an open source software project.

Apple and Motorola announced last year that they were working on a phone that supports the iTunes music service. The device was initially expected to ship during the first quarter this year but the companies now aren't saying when it might become available.

Nokia's new browser will become standard software on the Series 60, which is based on the Symbian operating system, during the first half of 2006. Nokia hasn't discussed plans to move away from Symbian on the Series 60 platform.

Nokia's open-source work also includes basing its Nokia 770 Internet tablet, due out in the third quarter, on a Linux operating system. The Nokia 770 also supports the Opera browser.

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