Edit: Made correction to iPhone SDK price/added self-signed option
I have been recently involved in Symbian development. Unfortunately, I could say. Symbian has made the life of Symbian developers headacheful. The main problem is that the application signing is made unnecessary cumbersome. Getting a required developer certificate to just to run your one liner test code is a long road paved with curses, stress and ponder how a world class company can screw up things so badly.
I write this post to vent out the frustration. Hopefully someone picks up the feedback presented here. Personally, I don’t care anymore really. After explaining to the customer once “I am afraid that we cannot have the demo in this meeting, since we were unable to get the developer certificates in time. It was nice you did summon all of your executes, though.” my sympathy towards Symbian has fallen to zero.
In the long run, I believe, this will hurt Symbian when developers leave the platform. When this happens Symbian will miss 1) developer base 2) the wow value of all new cool things when hackers move to happier platforms – after all you don’t want to work with things causing a headache even if you are paid generously. Professional Symbian capable developers are already rare and scaring away the potential candidates (students, open source developers, freeware developers) won’t really help the matter. Of course, for us, who are already in the business, it’s good since we can raise our hourly fee and die as rich dinosaurs (remember COBOL).
Looks like the root problem is the cocky attitude: “We are the biggest mobile operating system in the world. You are not our customer, the biggest mobile phone brands are. Thus, you are an insignicant fly and we don’t need to listen to you. Please go away.” The big boys tell that this very same reason lead to Motorola’s fall from the number one mobile phone vendor position – so let’s see if the history is repeating itself.
The problems of Symbian development process, especially signing, are well known. Symbian Signed forum category has 120 000 views. Symbian signed support requests has 57 000 views and 2000 messages, since November 2007. Over a thousand support requests in four months. Symbian has money. It could fix the problem if it has will. If there is will in the organization and the work just does not progress, the corporate world has a simple solution: fire the management and hire capable responsible persons.
I won’t go the details of the problems in this post. I have prepared a post containing over 50 bulletins with detailed steps to get the developer certification process done and it lists every little mistake in Symbian Signed process. Unsurprisingly, the post mentions fuck and hell over twenty times, so I am reluctant to post it on our company site. So I sketched a manager comprehensible overview of the state of the process in this post. To justify my criticism, I compare Symbian to Apple iPhone and make some suggestion how to fix things.
Symbian: 200$/1.5 years (you need a publisher id to get a developer certificate) + 20$ per signing round
Update: You can still make self-signing certificates yourself with limited capabilities (no GPS), but symbiansigned.com doesn’t bother to mention it.
Apple: 99$/year (for testing and distribution applications)
Suggestion: Make the developer certificate free. It used to be free, but based on this post, Symbian signed claims that they do not have enough CPU power, because of all kind of nasties are knocking their server. Come on! it’s Internet. You are hosted by Cidercone and by knowing how much they charge for the hosting I believe you can get every possible server power in the world to generate your keys.
This development start up cost automatically excludes third world people, freeware makers and students i.e. the future Symbian professionals. It’s hard to maintain a platform if there is not enough skilled people to work with it. There won’t be meat into Nokia’s and Sony-Ericsson’s innovation machines.
Development start lead time
How long it takes to get “Hello World” code to the phone.
Symbian: 8 workdays
Apple: 6 hours
Complete Guide to Symbian Signed guide (manual) is 20 pages PDF. How often you need a user manual to use a web site? Even with this page amount, the manual lacks crucial pieces of information which you need to hunt and ask help from the Symbian Signed support forums. I had to make 3 support request for Symbian Signed and 1 for TrustCenter.
Symbian: Create 3 user accounts (symbiansigned.com, developers.symbian.com, TrustCenter). Fax your passport and some signed papers to TrustCenter Germany. Wait when your request is manually processed. Ask TrustCenter what I do with the link they send me (hint: the only working web browser for their site is the very same browser you orignally submitted your application from). Convert TrustCenter key to Symbian specific format using obscure BAT tool. Use half-baked Windows EXE to generate files. Ask at the support forums permission to be allowed to create the Publisher id.
Apple: Download SDK. Click “I Agree.”
Symbiansigned management team must be either incomplete or inexistent, or they just hate their users. Looks like no one didn’t bother model or test this process, since the flaws are so apparent. Why do we need three user accounts? Why do we need a user account at all, isn’t my credit card payment enough? Why there can’t be a single web page on symbiansigned.com where I could do these all things without? Also, Symbian could do these things without third parties (TrustCenter) who are badly integrated to the process.
Web site and information reachability
Symbian: Two sites with different user accounts. Information is spread around and hidden behind various for registred users only pages. Often Symbian PDFs (yes they seem to prefer zipped PDFs) and web pages cross-link to other sites and these links are broken. Their internal site search engine does not give meaningful results. Google cannot search pages, since they are hidden behind the registration. Web forms don’t work. Navigation paths are unclear and you often need to guess where a certain piece of information could be.
Apple: One site – and it just works.
I think this is the part of the attidude problem. SymbianSigned.com mission is not to “secure” the development and control the developers of the platform. It’s mission should be easily enable developers to start development and release their software for Symbian. The meaning of “easily” includes that the web site is working and up to the standards. Please hire a usability expert (we are here) and get it fixed. This problem is not solvable by writing yet-another user manual PDF.
Symbian: Support like goes to the Symbian developer forum. A bulleting board with unorganized, angry, posts. They don’t give a feedback form to report the problems on Symbian Signed.
Apple: “There are three great ways to get answers to your questions about ADC membership, products, and services: visit our Frequently Asked Questions web pages, submit your questions or feedback using the form below, or call us to speak directly to a worldwide support agent. We look forward to assisting you.”
I’d help symbiansigned.com to get its site better if I could. When there is a broken link, I can hit feedback and ask them to fix it. But looks like they want to be ignorant about the matter – if I report a problem on their forum I bet no one will ever fix it. There won’t be even “thank you.” Probably no one ever reads my post. On the other hand, when having such non-functional service, this feedback channel would be flooded in overnight.
Symbian has unforgiveable screwed up with its signing process and doesn’t seem to get the feedback from the developers who suffer from it. Steve Ballmer’s famous quote “developers, developers, developers” refer to what’s the important factor making the platform succesfully in long term. This is especially crude when you know that things used to be good.