Symbian Plc, the consortium set up by Psion Plc, LM Ericsson Telefon AB, Nokia Oy Matsushita and Motorola Inc claims that Release 5 of its EPOC wireless internet device (WID) operating system, released yesterday, will help unleash a flood of applications into the emerging WID space, but remains tight-lipped about who exactly is developing them.
The small footprint OS developer has been banging its EPOC drum hard this year, and last week distributed free software developers kits at its London developers conference. The SDKs, for both C++ and Java programmers, coupled with the new and improved features in the latest version of the core OS, are billed as offering would-be WID application builders everything they need to ride the coming tide of Smartphone and second generation communicator class devices which should begin appearing later this year.
Indeed, according to Symbian’s executive vice president of technical consulting, David Wood, the latest EPOC technology provides improved functionality, stronger support and even better tools. All of which are committed to helping the company create a flood of new applications to help drive the WID industry.
However, apart from Symbian’s shareholders, no company has yet publicly declared plans either to build EPOC devices, or EPOC applications. A company spokesperson said that independent developers are waiting in the wings, but at the moment only Psion, which yesterday said it will put EPOC on its latest Psion 5MX PDA (personal digital assistant), and Ericsson, on its forthcoming MC218 phone, have announced plans to implement EPOC 5.
In the ISV community, Sybase says its SQLAnywhere small footprint database is now in beta phase on EPOC, and Symbian says it is talking to Oracle about bringing the latter’s Oracle Lite to its platform. IBM, in line with its commitment to Java and its antipathy to all things Microsoft, is also expected to add its contribution to the EPOC product portfolio.
In the meantime, EPOC 5 does add new features for developers to chew on, including an improved range of pen, or keyboard driven utilities such as email, fax and SMS (short message service) editors, an improved note jotter, an improved contacts database, and generally better seamless integration between all of the features which developers can choose to implement independently or all at once in their own EPOC products. Infrared connectivity management and extensions to the existing PC synchronization features of EPOC have also been added, along with support for full-color displays and the Java developers kit (JDK) 1.1.4 specification.
Although Symbian argues that the modular nature of EPOC’s architecture, which is roughly 80% core OS and 20% user interface, means that developers have significant choice over what features they choose to implement, and how users are invited to access them, Release 5 does appear to be geared largely to the needs of more sophisticated PDA and communicator-class devices. WAP (the wireless application protocol, set to be the de facto WID/internet interface) is notable by its absence, as is built in support for Blue Tooth, the lower-power radio device interconnect standard. The latter’s absence is understandable, given that Blue Tooth products are at least six months away, but WAP support might have been expected from a company whose shareholders are all, with the exception of Matsushita, major WAP proponents.
A Symbian spokesperson said WAP and Blue Tooth support are both slated to appear in future iteration’s of EPOC, but it remains to be seen whether they both come to be regarded as standard features. The spokesperson said that EPOC 5 might turn out to be the last major release of the whole operating system. Future releases are likely to reflect the company’s strategy of developing templates for different classes of WID, with different flavors of EPOC being pushed out according to market requirements. Symbian would give no hints as to what flavor will appear first, or when. But with WAP 1.1 now also in the hands of developers, a smartphone oriented point release supporting WAP must surely not be far away.