Episode 17

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


  • Nokia WP7 Announcement
  • Intel Tablet Demoed at MWC
  • Qt For Android
  • Qt 4.8 Talk on Mailing List
Mark Hatch and Justin Noel

Intro: Welcome to ICSNetwork's This Week in Qt, the ten minute podcast that keeps you informed of significant events that may impact your engineering projects. If you have not yet heard about ICS, please visit our website at www.ics.com. As an organization, we believe we have the best independent team of Qt engineers in the world. Whether you're starting a new project or need help removing that insurmountable roadblock that every project has, please contact us at sales@ics.com.

Mark: Good morning. This is Mark Hatch. I run the Qt business here at ICS and with me today is Justin Noel one of our lead engineers here. So Justin, what are we going to talk about today?

Justin: Well, it's been quite a week in the history of Qt. There's been a lot of drama around announcements by Nokia about the future of their high-end phones, some press releases and announcements by Intel abd there have been some advancements in Qt for Android, and what's going to be released in Qt 4.8.

M: Wow, I know I was up about 3 am when the announcement hit on the Nokia one. Why don't you summarize that for the listeners?

J: So, most of you out there on the Internet probably already know this, but it was announced last Friday that the Nokia phones, on the high-end, from here on out are going to run Windows Phone 7, which is a platform based around the Microsoft tools with Visual Studio, where you will write all of your applications in .NET, and Silverlight, and it's also a platform that cannot support Qt.

M: Ahh, that's a problem for our listeners, I think.

J: It is. Prior to this announcement it was the Nokia policy that Qt and QML were going to be the future of all phones, both Symbian and Linux and whatever came forward, but this is a dramatic change in direction. The phones will not really be available in volume until 2012, but from the Nokia stance right now, the high-end phones are going to run Windows Phone 7 from basically 2012 on.

M: So did they kill the MeeGo phones completely?

J: Well, they did make some clarifications. They are going to ship a MeeGo phone in 2011 and it's going to be called the N950 and that is a definite go. They haven't cancelled that, and they haven't changed course on that. What they are going to do after that MeeGo handset is delivered is unclear. They even said they've made no decisions regarding MeeGo.

M: Now, for a while there, when they announced, the actual announcement was a little bit ambiguous because it talked about a MeeGo "device." Has there been further information that says it's actually a phone?

J: Yes, I was at Mobile World Congress and Rich Green, CTO of Nokia at the Nokia App Planet presentation said that this is going to be a phone and it's going to be called the N950.

M: Ok, good, that clarifies some of the rumors. When announcements like this come down, it's really hard to tell the difference between speculation and fact and fiction, for that matter.

J: Also, in terms of Symbian, they started off the mantra when Rich Green got up on stage at Mobile World Congress on Monday and the first thing out of this Nokia executives mouth was "Symbian is not dead." They still plan on shipping another 150 million phones, which is a lot of phones, and the toolkit that they suggest that people write applications for these phones is Qt and QML. That is still going forward. They claim to have already in the wild 75 million phones that either ship with Qt such as the N8 or the new E7, or can be upgraded to Qt via the OVI store, and this includes some of the phones such as the N97.

M: Right, and they're predicting, what, another 100-200 million Symbian phones that are Qt capable over the next year or two.

J: Yes, the quote from Rich Green was 150 million phones shipped from now on, and 75 million already shipped, which gives you a grand total of 225 million phones.

M: Not quite one for every person in the United States, but quite a few there.

J: Yeah, exactly. So that's a lot of phones to write Qt applications for and we'll see how it goes from there.

M: So what was the reaction among the Qt community? I'm sure there was a lot of disappointment.

J: There were a number of different reactions, some of them more visceral than others. Many people at the Mobile World Congress show, their first contact with Qt was from Nokia, when Nokia made their splash buying Trolltech. They were the most concerned. They didn't realize that Qt has a very long history with lots of practical applications outside of the space of Nokia high-end phones. There are still a lot of devices that run Qt code or are going to run Qt code in the future. There is the desktop ecosystem with Mac, Windows and Linux, and also, Nokia has been very good to Qt. As a community we can't really complain. They've given us QML, they've given us a true open license with the LGPL, and they've given us Creator and the SDKs. Because Qt has gone under this new, open-governance system and is truly open source, there's really no way, I think, for Nokia to even stop it if they wanted to. Qt still has a very bright future, there's still a lot of applications that it can be used for and there's still a lot of phones that are going to run it in the future.

M: One of the interesting things was the blog that Volker wrote which is on the Qt Nokia blog site, where he was talking about Nokia's continuing commitment to Qt, from at least the inside. Do you want to summarize that a little bit?

J: The road map internally for Qt has not changed. They are still moving forward on features, they are still hiring people, they are still putting resources into make Qt better on all platforms, both the desktop and embedded devices, and in Symbian. In fact, one of the release goals for Qt 4.8 is a lot of Symbian enhancements.

M: One thing, to put that in a little perspective...some of the slides that were shown at the announcement showed the size of the Nokia engineering R&D, which by the way might surprise everybody, is substantially more than Apples, and they showed how they were cutting it down in some areas. So for Volker to say "were still hiring within the Qt area, no one's stopped us and were still going forward" I think is a pretty strong statement there that I think people should take away.

Before we go away form the story at the Mobile World Conference, I think we ought to toot our own horn a little bit, which is after Rich Green and Sebastian, who basically runs what is left of the Trolltech engineering group got up, the person who got up and talked about Qt and QML and its possibilities was our own Justin Noel, here. You did a great job. I guess we'll put up some links to the YouTube video of your presentation.

J: Yeah, in fact all of the presentations from Nokia's app world planet are now posted up on YouTube. You can check out my technical presentation about using Qt Quick, QML, C++ and Photoshop to quickly make cool-looking applications. And you can get direct links to those form the ICS website (www.ics.com).

M: That's gonna be great so take a look at that. If you're appetites been whetted in the past by what Justin's been doing with the in-vehicle infotainment system demo that he's been working on, this presentation that's about 35 or 40 minutes long, gives you that next level of technical detail. In addition the source code to the demo is actually posted on the webpage and you can download it and play with it yourself, too.

Ok, so that was Nokia's announcement. Certainly, something which, whether or not it's the right strategy, it's their strategy and what they're planning on doing, and time will tell there. How did Intel react to this, what was going on with Intel on the other side of the MeeGo house?

J: So Intel immediately released a press release saying that they were unaware of any of these plans that Nokia had announced.

M: Ooops.

J: And they were going to not blink, they are keeping their eye on the MeeGo prize, they are going to be putting even more resources into developing MeeGo on all the MeeGo branches. That includes handset, tablet, Ivi, connected TV, and netbook. They are going to still pursue at the level they were pursuing or more, into the MeeGo project.

M: So the open-source people, the people who are concerned about Qt, suddenly have, really, a strong ally that they might not have thought about in Intel, which should be a very pleasant surprise.

J: Yeah, Qt is truly core to MeeGo. It is the toolkit to write applications for it. Also, at Mobile World Congress, Intel had basically three different booths. They had one dedicated to AppUp, which is an app distribution store that they are going to be using for MeeGo. There is also a version for Windows. They had the generic Intel booth where they were pitching their latest chip-sets. They also had a MeeGo booth that was actually showing devices from each of the different branches, including television set-top boxes, IVI stuff, or In-Vehicle Infotainment, and they had the tablet.

M: Ooh they had the tablet, finally?

J: Yeah and in fact, this bodes really well for a demo, not only did they have the tablet and the guy behind the desk to show you what the tablet was all about, but they let you touch the tablet and play with it, and it worked really well, I have to say. It didn't do anything bad for me at least, and I thought the user interface was pretty fantastic. It would make a really great couch surfing device.

M: Yeah now we've been hearing rumors of this user interface since it was kinda-sorta previewed by Engadget, what was it almost a year ago now? I guess it was about 6 months ago. It seemed like a year in Internet time, but it looked very nice. Can you describe the user interface at all?

J: It's really hard to describe, I would have to link you back to YouTube to have a look at it, but it's based along these columns that have different categories. So you might have a social networking, I think they call it a "friends" column, and that would aggregate your Facebook updates, twitter...these types of things. Then you have one for "media" which will show you maybe, the currently playing music, you can change your music, and there's one for web browsing...things like that, very task-oriented things.

M: So this is a real change in paradigm. When you think about it, the iPad or some of these other tablets they're really nice, but they are an incremental improvement over the UI you might have seen on a Mac or Windows 7, but it's not like it's a major change for the different device scale, if you will.

J: Yeah, I like sort of the busy home screens like the 'today' screen from Symbian, or Windows Mobile 6.5...things that give you a lot of information at a glance. And this one looks like basically a multiple-column homepage interface which is really nice, it's actually trying to compress all of the things that you'd want to keep an eye on, in one place. And then you can basically drill in to say, "ok, well this is what's playing, this is what's next." You can open a webpage and then we'll come back to the broad-view to see if anyone's posted anything to Facebook, things like that.

M: That's pretty good. My memory was that, at least from seeing Engadget, was actually that some of the user-interface had a card-flip on some of these things, which actually looked kinda cool.

J: Yeah, like I said, you can't really describe this in a podcast. I'll have to put a couple of links to YouTube up.

M: That'd be great. So what else did Intel do?

J: So Intel has, like I said, an app up ready to go. They were demonstrating MeeGo integration into Qt Creator, which means that you can download some modules from Intel, plug them into Qt Creator, and have access to all the MeeGo development tools including a really nice profiler...

M: Oh well, yeah.

J: ...and use the Intel compilers, these things, directly inside Creator, which is really nice. Now, when you are looking at the tablet, they made note that it is definitely a pre-alpha type of thing. It didn't say when it would be out or when the actual alpha or beta release candidates would be announced. However, there is a MeeGo conference coming up May, I think around Memorial Day, and something tells me that maybe Intel might want to make a big announcement then. So I'm looking very forward to the MeeGo Conference San Francisco in May.

M: We're gonna be there, and in fact ICS is a platinum sponsor there, so make sure you stop by the booth because I'm sure you'll see Justin and myself again.

So, what's this about Qt and Android again?

J: Good question. So, we talked about this a lot a few months ago on This Week in Qt, because there was a project that was started by some open source guys on the Internet, and they decided that they were going to get Qt running on the Android, and they were successful. The only problem was that you had to install the libraries on the phone, which is very hard to do without actually rooting your phone and installing them. The store for Android was never really set up to support libraries. That is until this weekend, when an announcement was posted to the mailing list for Qt for Android, which is actually called Lighthouse Android because they used the lighthouse branch of Qt to make this work right now, that Google has agreed to allow them to post the Qt libraries to the Android marketplace. Meaning that if you download a Qt app, it will automatically make sure that prior to installing the app you download, that it will install Qt first, and it will keep Qt up to date. And there will be only one version of Qt for n number of apps that you download that need Qt.

M: That's cool. Now which Qt libraries have they ported so far under this thing, do you know yet?

J: Almost all of them.

M: Including Mobility, you think?

J: Ah, no. Mobility is a whole separate thing, and right now I would say that the core components of Qt are complete except for OpenGL. So everything is done with the software raster engine, which is still pretty fast. The Mobility is still under progress. There's only one API that's been implemented and that's the Sensors API, so I would call that barely started.

M: Right, exactly.

J: But the generic Qt framework is there. And in fact if you go to the store, maybe right now, there is an app you can download called 'Animated Tiles', which is Bogdan Vatra's test application. And you can actually download it and give it a whirl; it should install the Qt libraries for you. That app will be removed shortly from the store. Bogdan is very adamant that this is a pre-alpha release, and they want to work on the code more and probably have something ready to go around the 4.8 timeframe. And you might ask why 4.8? And the answer is that they require the Lighthouse branch, which has only just now been brought into the master branch of Qt, so it will be released for I guess, real, with 4.8.

M: Ok. So, typically 4.8's at DevDays in October, that's usually the timeframe for a new release, but there's no announced date, right?

J: No announced date. People have been wondering on the mailing list what the deal is, what features can we expect. And the talk this week has been basically that features in 4.8 are actually going to be pretty light for the end user. Most of the work is going into modularizing Qt. Basically taking the different libraries and making them separate repositories. They can have their own version numbers and have features added at a pace that is right for each module, so new modules need to be developed quickly with lots of features being added every few months. Older repositories like Qt GUI and Qt Core can have longer life-cycles, and longer feature release cycles, so they are going to modularize Qt so that can happen. Lighthouse is going to be released, that makes Qt more portable to these obscure platforms like QNX, Android, Web OS, these types of things. And they are doing Symbian enhancements and they are rewriting the file system code. So, these are all internal things that are going to make Qt a lot better, not a lot of features for the end user. There was some talk about REST and JSON support early at DevDays when they talking about what could come in 4.8. Those don't seem as likely, but could make it.

Also, there's been talk about bringing the Android patches back into mainline 4.8, so that Android could be a "tier 2 platform." These are platforms that would supported by those in the community, but they would be official Qt ports.

M: One would have a hard time believing that Nokia would, especially given that on the high-end their not using Qt, that they would be very interested in providing Qt on Android as a "tier 1 platform."

J: No, they wouldn't put any resources in it, but one of the goals of this open governance push is to actually get a true open source project where you have people who do not work for Nokia maintaining portions of the project and being responsible.

M: Ah, ok, so this is where it could potentially be done external to Nokia and it would just work.

J: Exactly. And so, with Web OS 2.0, internally, in all the phones, is a Qt library. It's 4.6. And apparently HP needed this for some of their own code. It is not a public API right now, but you could really see say, HP picking up the slack on that and maintaining it for their own platform that they're using it for.

M: So we started off this week, or actually two weeks ago, with some bad news, which is Nokia's, position relative to their high-end and their announcement with Microsoft. But as things have evolved and things have let out, we've found that Qt is, probably going forward, the primary API on Symbian, which is another 150 million phones going to be shipped worldwide. We find that Intel has made great progress with MeeGo and is continuing. They're not blinking, right? They're...

J: ...going forward on all branches, including headsets.

M: Right, and they're going and finding additional partners. We may have lost the high-end Nokia phones, but we've now gained the Android phones, potentially, if some of this comes to fruition here.

J: And maybe even Web OS, who knows?

M: And maybe even Web OS. And from Volker's blog, we're seeing additional hiring continuing within Qt to support the development of Qt. And we're seeing, and this is about the right time, we're seeing 4.8 start and we're getting firm on what's happening...

What do you think?

J: I'm still very optimistic.

M: You know I think, sometimes, you know, good news follows bad and I think that Qt has kind of come up with a life of it's own at this point and with the open governance, as you said, and we've repeated that many times... I think the future is still pretty bright here.

So, anything else you have? What should we look forward to in the next week or two?

J: Who knows? After the last week, I wouldn't make any guesses.

M: I think that's a safe position, there. Well thank you very much for listening, and thank you again Justin for your insights here, we appreciate it. This is This Week in Qt, signing off.

J: See you next week, same time, same channel.

M: Take care, bye.