Symbian DevZone - Genesys - Global Conferencing for the Symbian OS
by Richard Bloor
Global telephone, video and web conferencing company Genesys recognizes the
opportunities that mobility offers to its clients and has been quietly porting its
conferencing applications to Symbian OS. This week Richard talks with Doug
Lauder Genesys’ Director, Technology & Architecture about opportunities and
challenges Genesys is facing in embracing the Symbian OS.
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Genesys (www.genesys.com) started as an audio conferencing company during the
1980’s initially serving the French market. Through a number of acquisitions it
has grown to establish a significant presence in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia
and South East Asia. At the same time Genesys has broadened its offerings into
video and web based conferencing to provide a full range of collaborative
enterprise communication tools.
Mobility was recognized by Genesys as a significant new market in the late 90's.
After reviewing the options it selected the Symbian OS and Microsoft Pocket PC
as its two target operating systems because of the market potential for Genesys’
services using these devices. By early 2002 Genesys had developed their first
functional prototypes. “Our vision is to be able to offer our clients all the business
communications functionality they have with our PSTN and web based products
in a mobile environment,” said Doug Lauder Genesys’ Director, Technology &
Architecture. “However we are also looking at a number of new products and
services which harness the unique opportunities that mobility offers.”
One example of what Genesys have achieved is illustrated by the migration of
their Desktop data conferencing application to Nokia Series 60 handsets. The
desktop product allows a meeting moderator to fully control an audio and data
conference. The application offers such features as participant lists, with
identification of the active speaker. The attendees can be pushed a PowerPoint
presentation, view an application being run or even share interaction with an
application. The system also allows question and answer sessions to be managed
with participants submitting text questions, which are queued so the moderator
can manage the answers.
“We don’t yet have all the features of the desktop in the mobile product,”
commented Doug. “But we are able to demonstrate a significant portion of the
features in the mobile environment. These include information on who is on the
conference, whether they are attending on the web or on audio as well. We can
push slideshows from a PowerPoint uploaded by the moderator to their Genesys
account. Currently the mobile clients only see a static image of the slide while the
desktop participants will see the full multi-media experience. We have not yet
implemented applications sharing but we are working on that.” Genesys have also
implemented some features that make the meeting experience more effective for
mobile participants. “The Q&A sessions are usually initiated with text,” said
Doug. “However the limited keyboard capabilities on a smartphone means this
interaction may not be effective for mobile participants. So what we have done is
integrated a poll based questioning mechanism which allows participants to
select an answer from a list, so they only need to use the numbers pad on their
Genesys has two R&D centers, one based in Toronto, Canada and a second based
in Montpellier, France, where Genesys is headquartered, both managed as a
single unit from Canada. The Canadian center was originally focused on data
conferencing applications and initiated the work on mobile and smartphone
applications, although the majority of work is now being undertaken in France.
Doug attributes this movement to priority issues, rather than due to any inherent
advantage of undertaking the work in Europe.
The development team is being built mainly from Genesys’ existing staff. “Initially
we did start by hiring from outside,” explained Doug. “But we found that hiring
developers with a Symbian OS background takes some time, its certainly not as
easy as finding a generic C++ developer. And it seemed to involve about the same
effort regardless of whether we are looking for staff in Canada or France. As a
result hiring an entire Symbian team just did not seem feasible.” These resoucing
issues have meant that Genesys’ Symbian development has taken a while to fully
resource. However, Doug notes that “the mitigating factor for us is that the
devices supported by Symbian represent a significant market share, particularly
in Europe, and we believe they will offer a significant market opportunity for us in
the future.” Doug also attributes Genesys’ partnership with Nokia as providing
additional motivation to get over the “hump” caused by the limited availability of
The addition of Symbian OS to their supported platforms has created some
interesting challenges for Genesys as their heritage is firmly with desktop
applications. "We have worked with Windows applications for a long time and the
transition to Windows Mobile has been relatively straightforward," Doug said.
"The APIs are very similar, so it is easy for our developers to work with Windows
Mobile because it’s familiar and known. They can quickly and easily get immersed
in development. But with Symbian its like they are starting from scratch.”
While the learning curve has been a challenge it is not Genesys’ biggest challenge.
“With Windows Mobile we have the ability to share desktop code, at least in part,
with the mobile applications and architecturally this has much to commend it.
Obviously with Symbian we don’t have this opportunity,” notes Doug. “Currently
there are no simple solutions to this problem, short of creating a library to overlay
the WinCE/Symbian API’s, but we are not currently pursuing that as an option.
We also considered J2ME, which would solve the code sharing problem, but it
would be at the expense of rich feature set because J2ME takes a lowest-
common-denominator approach to supporting features on different platforms. For
some applications this is fine, for other applications, like ours, native code is
Interestingly however Doug notes that the developers who have made the
transition to Symbian express a higher degree of confidence in the applications
they have built. “Symbian OS is a very robust platform," comments Doug.
Genesys has focused primarily on Nokia as their key Symbian OS partner, and it
has been Nokia’s quality of support that has mitigated the negative aspects of
developing for multiple operating systems. “We think Nokia has a great developer
program,” said Doug. “Dealing with them has been more than helpful, their
documentation is A1 and the emulators and other tools they provide are very
good. They have also been very accommodating in providing early versions of
devices so we have been able to develop and test our applications so we could
show our products with new devices as they come out.” Interestingly Doug noted
that because the project started in US they are still using the US developer
program but out of Europe. “It never occurred to us to shift and we have not
found a need, probably because we are already pretty used to time zone issues
and much of the interaction is on-line,” Doug commented.
So far Genesys’ has only had limited interaction with other Licensees or Symbian,
simply because Nokia has satisfied all their needs.
While Genesys has developed a number of Symbian OS versions of their
conferencing tools they are not actively marketing them. Doug attributes this
partly to Genesys’ product prioritization but, mainly a key technical limitation
with current devices, that they are not able to accommodate simultaneous voice
and data calls.
"We want to be innovative and forward thinking but equally we want to be sure
that our products and services are truly productive for our customers, rather
than simply being good technical solutions which are fun to look at and use,”
said Doug. "So at the moment we are demonstrating some cool technology, to
show that Genesys is staying on top of technology and we are not going to be
blind sided by start-ups grabbing expertise in areas of our business and then
challenging us to keep up. But before we actively market these tools we need to
know that they are going to work as a productive business tool, and to do that
now we need to tell our customers ‘get two devices’, one for voice one for data and
that’s not a strong message to take to market!”
That is not to say that these products are not being used “We are not selling
mobile services as a general offering but we have made them available to selected
customers” noted Doug.
However there are devices on the horizon that will overcome this issue, new
Series 60 phones like the Nokia 6600 will have the connection technology
Genesys’ applications need. “When we see the uptake on these new devices we
will become a lot more aggressive in marketing our products for these
technologies and services,” said Doug.
One of the challenges faced by Symbian and its licensees is gaining acceptance of
Symbian OS by developers who currently have a strong commitment to the
Windows desktop environment. In Genesys’ case the appeal of architectural
homogeneity has been overridden by several factors, anticipation of market
penetration, the quality of the operating system and the quality of support
provided by Nokia’s developer program. As a result Genesys are poised to deliver
a range of collaboration facilities to Symbian OS phones when the handset and
network technology is able to deliver simultaneous voice and data calls.
About the WDN Symbian Editor, Richard Bloor:Symbian DevZone Home
Richard Bloor is a freelance writer and editor with 18 years experience in the IT industry as a developer, analyst and latterly Project Manager with a particularly focus on software testing. Richard has been involved with the Symbian OS since 1995 and has been writing about it for the last 3 years.
Richard is also an associate with System Architecture consultancy Equinox of Wellington, New Zealand.
Richard can be reached at email@example.com.