Skip to main content
April 8, 2010

“The future of the operating system” by Rafe Blandford, All About Symbian

3. BloggerGLOBAL – When you’re talking mobile devices and operating systems there’s certainly one guy you want to be involved in the conversation, and that’s Rafe Blandford from All About Symbian. So with this week’s Design by Community topic focussed entirely on creating a concept OS for our concept device we asked Rafe to share his thoughts and write us a guest opinion piece.

Rafe Blandford is the editor and fella responsible for All About Symbian, one of the world’s most-read and best respected independent sites dedicated to exploring and commentating on the world of Symbian-powered devices and beyond.

Read his full story here and join the discussion in the comments section below.

The future of the operating system

The ability to run more than one application at a time, multi-tasking, is a hot topic right now. Much of the debate centres on how important it is to be able to run more than one application at a time. There are some obvious use cases, such as playing music in the background or downloading email, but, outside of power-users, is it really necessary beyond these basics? After all, server-side notifications give the perception of multi-tasking without any of the overheads.

However, future device visions and concepts frequently see mobile devices making ‘intelligent’ decisions without any user input. They are able to do this by responding to changes in state (e.g. a change in location, or a change in a calendar entry), which, realistically, can only be enabled by some kind of local multi-tasking. Moreover, as mobile devices become more and more computer-like the ability to multi-task applications will become less of a geek luxury and more of a necessity.

A big part of device ‘intelligence’ is context awareness. This is the ability for devices to ‘understand’ what is going on around them by sensing the environment and looking at data stored on the phone. At a high level this can be thought of as your mobile phone becoming your sixth sense, enabling a technology enhanced ‘peripheral vision’. Rather than being a passive one-way tool, the mobile device becomes a two-way dynamic companion. The operating system will be critically important in executing this vision in a meaningful way, be it through the nuts and bolts of sensor frameworks or the visual presentation of the end results in a worthwhile fashion.

The rising importance of the web is reflected in its increasingly central role in mobile operating systems. This trend will continue as seamless integration will blur the line between ‘local’ and ‘cloud’ applications, services and storage. However, imperfect connectivity, both in terms of speed and availability, will mean mobile operating systems will need to support hybrid usage models. We can expect web based services, such as social networking, to break out of the browser and to be deeply integrated into both existing applications and the operating system itself.

Operating systems will become more social as they marry context awareness, the Internet and your social connections. The information broadcast and received by your mobile device will be critical in connecting people in new and more immediate new ways – similarly location context will provide new ways to connect the physical and digital world.

Operating systems may not catch the imagination in quite the same way that design and technologies do, but they remain the enablers on top of which everything else is built. With both Symbian and MeeGo in the hands of open source foundation more than ever before the future of Nokia’s mobile operating systems is in the hands of the wider community. This should lead to a faster pace of development and innovation – the mobile future may be closer than you think.