Nokia Widgets for Series 60

Weatherbug widget Nokia N95

Widgets are coming to Series 60 handsets this Fall, bringing tiny pieces of content onto the application menu of the world’s best-selling smartphone OS. The S60 Web Run-Time builds upon the existing open source technologies in the S60 browser and provides a development experience very close to Apple’s Dashboard widget environment. The widget software will be available in version 3.2 of Nokia’s operating system due out this Fall. The Series 60 operating system is currently installed on over 85 million mobile devices produced by Lenovo, LG, Nokia, and Samsung.

S60 widgets are marked up using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript tied together with a platform manifest. Plugins such as Flash Lite are currently not available inside the Web Run-Time environment to help minimize the total software footprint. S60 widgets appear on the application menu just like a native phone application, loading a locally stored user interface, content frame, and rich interaction supplemented with fresh data pulled in from the web over cellular data or a WiFi network. The load time is almost instant, unlike many of the mobile Java applications I have used. The user simply selects their content of choice launched on demand from a quick launch bar or application menu.

Any developer familiar with widget development inside personal homepages or Apple’s Dashboard environment should be able to easily port their work to Nokia’s S60 widget environment. Both Apple and S60 use the open source WebKit browser engine to render widgets. The mobile platform requires a few specialized changes such as adjusting how you collect a user preference such as a ZIP Code or a Flickr account name and altering your graphics display for a mobile phone’s small screen, colors, and resolution. WeatherBug ported their Apple Dashboard widget to S60 and claims the entire process took about 5 days.

The Web Run-Time and its widget environment is separated from the rest of the operating system for security reasons, but Nokia does plan to expose more functionality in future releases. Future widgets will be able to receive GPS data, access a local address book, and possibly even place phone calls. Imagine a widget responding to its local environment, narrowing a local search to 5 minute walking distance, and possibly messaging your nearby friends to come join you.

Widget distribution

S60 users will be able to download new S60 widgets directly to their phones from the Nokia mobile portal and from the WidSets distribution site. Any widget can also be sent to your phone and swapped with friends using the built-in Bluetooth connection.

Summary

Nokia smartphones are not readily available in the U.S. but they are a dominant force in Europe. Mobile-savvy European customers will soon have a new way to access their favorite mobile content inside a richer user interface than a traditional mobile browser window. Web content is as close as the quick launch bar, allowing web applications to earn their spot on the phone’s home screen.

Apple’s iPhone will have similar functionality on a larger display at a higher resolution but limited to EDGE cellular data transfer rates and latency. Both Nokia and Apple will be subject to the content wishes of mobile carriers, who could continue to make life difficult to place content on a mobile handset utilizing their networks.

I’m a fan of the new S60 Web Run-Time as yet another way to extend the reach of web content through widgets. The announced features open up the world of mobile content to developers with a web authoring skill set and creates a lot more content for the S60 platform.

3 comments

Commentary on "Nokia Widgets for Series 60":

  1. Sylvain Carle on wrote:

    One question I was not able to have a good answer for (yet) is the access to APIs for some of the phone hardware/services from within widgets.

    An obvious one would be accessing GPS data to call any existing geo-aware web APIs from within the widget. Any insights on that would be great.

    Maybe via the python stack available on the S60 platform…

    • Niall Kennedy on wrote:

      GPS, address book, and the ability to call out, yes. Python access, no. There are security concerns for Nokia and the carriers, and they are taking things cautiously to help the basic platform grow.

  2. Afaq Aziz on wrote:

    Can you please tell us the handset support for Widgets (wgz extension). Do all the Series 60 phones support widgets?