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Symbian DevZone - Office Software for Symbian OS - An Interview with Paul Moreton, Director, Handheld Software at Mobility Electronics

by Richard Bloor

Mobility Electronics' iGo Quickoffice software has been providing Palm users with the ability to edit Microsoft Word and Excel files on PDAs for several years. Quickoffice software is now being ported to Symbian OS. This week Richard Bloor spoke to Paul Moreton about how Mobility Electronics has made the transition to Symbian OS.

The Quickoffice software has allowed Palm users to display and edit Microsoft Office documents since 1996. Last month Mobility Electronics announced that they had signed up to Symbianís Affiliate Partner Program and are the first supplier of office software to do so. As a result there is now the promise that the award winning Quickoffice suite will soon be available for a range of Symbian OS devices, in fact Quickword and Quickpoint have already been released for Series 60. This week Richard spoke to Paul Moreton, Director, Handheld Software to find out more.

WDN: Quickoffice has been a successful Palm product for a number of years, what were your motivations for taking Quickoffice to Symbian OS?
Paul: Since we started in 1996 we have been exclusively in the Palm space, but we have always been looking at other Platforms. We are a handheld shop so we have only looked for opportunities in that space. Until recently the only other platform that had much traction, from a volume point of view, was Pocket PC. We have considered building for Pocket PC, but as the devices include Microsoft branded Pocket Word and Pocket Excel we were deterred. We felt that the challenge of convincing owners that there was a better solution was too great, even though I truly believe, and I think that most industry experts would agree, our applications are superior to Pocket Word and Pocket Excel.
So when we started to see Symbian OS take off with support from the big player in the industry we decided to jump on the opportunity immediately.

WDN: Did the fact that Symbian OS already incorporates much of the functionality delivered by Quickoffice, even if it has not been implemented on all the existing phones, not deter you?
Paul: While Nokia Series 80 does have the office suite functionality and it is available to the licensees as well, the office suite was developed in the old Psion days and ported over to Series 80, it has not been ported to UIQ or Series 60. So there was definitely a clear opportunity and we truly believe we can build a superior product to any office suite available on the Symbian OS.
Also in building the original office suite Symbian created libraries that we can use to our advantage. This meant that we could quickly port our suite over, which was a significant advantage.
From the time we started work Symbian has been a huge proponent of us and I have to commend them for all the things they have done for us, they have been very helpful in assisting us develop our suite. I believe they were impressed with what we could do on the Symbian OS and they are no longer planning to update the existing office suite, they are now looking for us to provide office applications in the future.

WDN: How have you approached the porting of your applications from Palm to Symbian OS? Was the original Quickoffice built with porting in mind or have you had to develop the Symbian OS version from scratch?
Paul: I would love to say that we were looking that far ahead but the truth of the matter is that we were one of the first commercial applications on Palm and at the time we only thought about writing applications for Palm. I expect you have spoken to developers who have built their applications more recently who have been able to build core libraries for easy porting. But we have a little more legacy associated with our Palm apps.
So it has been a rewrite, but it has been a great opportunity for us to take everything we do well on Palm and while porting it over, look at the things that hampered us in our legacy code and remove them. This has allowed us to take our applications to the next level as we deploy them to Symbian OS.

WDN: Have you taken the opportunity to be smarter with your new code?
Paul: Yes we have. As you know Palm OS is going though its own changes right now with major change in its architecture. So we are developing our Symbian OS applications so they can be the basis of our applications on Palm as well.

WDN: You have already mentioned the Symbian OS libraries as a significant advantage of the Symbian OS, were there any other notable advantages or challenges that Symbian OS presented to you?
Paul: We started this work in November 2002 and at the time there was not much of a development environment, on the Series 60 in particular. As a result we have gone though a couple of iterations on the development environment and that has certainly been a challenge to get to the point where we are happy with the environment we are using to develop.
The other main challenge, and this was something which has not been apparent on the Palm side, is dealing with the different flavors of UI. It has certainly added complexity. Because you have Series 60, Series 80 and UIQ when we find a problem we sometimes donít know whether it is an issue we need to resolve inside Series 60 or Symbian OS. That can sometime cause problems in working out who is responsible for resolving the issue.
Sometimes itís a Series 60 problem, others its Symbian OS and sometimes both, but it could take a while for Nokia and Symbian to work out who needed to resolve the problem.

WDN: My experience suggests that this type of situation can sometimes result in problems being bounced between the various suppliers and getting a solution can be frustrating, whatís it been like in this instance?
Paul: There has been some round and about, but Iím not saying that Nokia and Symbian have not been responsive, they have, its just part of the dynamics we are in and takes a bit of adjusting to.

WDN: So its not caused you any real delays?
Paul: We have had things that have troubled use for a couple of weeks while we resolve how to get the answer. But in the end we have been able to find all the answers we need and we have been very pleased with that. Itís a little different for us from Palm. We have been a member of the Palm community for a long time and so have many other developers, so when we run into a problem, which is rare, there is a bigger network of peers we can call on to find answers.

WDN: Did the smaller number of Symbian developers prove to be a problem when you were building your Symbian OS team?
Paul: Unfortunately here in the States there are not a lot of people with Symbian experience so I did not see that there was an opportunity to pick up Symbian developers. So we have taken our team and trained them in Symbian, we have been to many of the courses and have made sure everyone has gone though one if not multiple courses on Symbian. Also because we have several developers we can have them work together on issues and share their learning.
But in the end we develop in CodeWarrior for both Symbian and Palm. We have a lot of experience in handheld development and many of these skills translate across platforms, so while we had to learn about the Symbian libraries and unique aspects of the OS, we already had the core skills for handheld development.

WDN: How did your developers cope with going from being Palm experts to Symbian novices, as I know this has been a challenge for some companies?
Paul: Symbian OS is a much more powerful OS than the Palm OS as it exists today so our developers were very excited about all the things they could do with Symbian that they could not do with Palm. Our Palm applications had lots of constraints placed on them by Palmís capabilities. We get around all these restrictions with creative work arounds. Our applications are complex and require a lot of dynamic memory manipulation to make them work quickly on these constrained platforms. The Symbian OS was a breath of fresh air, we got true multi threading and a lot of things we did not have on Palm.
The flip side is that they certainly had a level of frustration with the documentation and getting up to speed. We would consider ourselves experts on Palm on a par with anybody. We obviously had to start over with Symbian and learn all the tricks.

WDN: You mentioned that you now work in CodeWarrior, but you also mentioned that you have been through several iterations of development environment.
Paul: Yes we started with Borland and have been through every single option and now we are using CodeWarrior. Itís a tool we are familiar with from our Palm development and it saves us using multiple environments.

WDN: So was the main reason for sticking with CodeWarrior simply familiarity or does it have superior features to the alternatives?
Paul: Its not just familiarity. As we are working to share code across our Symbian OS and Palm applications, CodeWarrior allows us to do our work in one place, checking code in and out, doing builds across different platforms. It makes a lot of sense for us, its one consolidated, consistent environment.

WDN: In terms of future developments in Quickoffice what are we likely to see first expanded Series 60 support or UIQ support?
Paul: As you know we have not publicly announced UIQ products, but UIQ is closer to Palm in the user experience the device delivers. We receive requests almost daily from UIQ users, so it is a clear opportunity for us. You should look for us to be doing both.

WDN: Does the Affiliate Partners agreement mean we are likely to see Symbian support in other Mobility Electronics products?
Paul: Mobility Electronics already supports Series 60 in the iGo Pitch presentation device so Series 60 users can make PowerPoint presentations from their Series 60 and display their Series 60 screen on a monitor. Other products like the iGo Juice, universal power solutions for handhelds and phones, today supports Nokia and Sony Ericsson and we are looking to support other Symbian licensees as they bring out devices.

WDN: Many developer I have spoken to have chosen to work with Nokia or Sony Ericsson and not moved to a relationship directly with Symbian, what motivated you to work directly with Symbian?
Paul: We do also have strong relationship with licensees like Nokia, our software team is based in Dallas, where, as you will know, Nokia has its US headquarters. But I guess I have never thought about it as one or the other as the programs serve different purposes. The Symbian relationship allows us to reach out to UIQ and to Symbianís other licensees.

WDN: How do you see the relative importance of Palm and Symbian OS to your future activities?
Paul: We are 100% committed to Symbian and have dedicated a lot of time and resources to developing the Symbian version of Quickoffice, we see it as a large opportunity and are pressing ahead rapidly. However the Palm side of the business is equally important to us. We are now focusing and are committed to having the best cross platform office applications available.


The first two components of Quickoffice available for Series 60 are Quickword and Quickpoint. Quickword is capable of displaying Microsoft Word documents, with a good portion of the original formatting, such as colors and font emphasis, retained. Quickpoint allows Microsoft PowerPoint presentations to be saved for viewing on a Series 60 device, with Mobility Electronics Pitch Duo it is also possible to give the presentation.

Quickword adds a hugely useful capability to Series 60, as there has been nothing as frustrating as receiving an email but being unable to get at a Word attachment until you get back to your PC. Now you can read that file directly from your Series 60 phone. Quickpoint will have significant appeal to road warriors who want the convenience of being able to make presentation directly from the device they have rather than having to carry a laptop specifically to make presentations.

With the Quickoffice for Symbian OS forming the basis of the new Palm version of Quickoffice it can certainly be hoped that the Symbian OS software will include all the comprehensive features of the current Quickoffice for Palm.

About the WDN Symbian Editor, Richard Bloor:
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

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