Symbian application updates in 2014
As everyone's now aware, the Nokia Store (for Symbian apps) is effectively frozen as of midnight tonight. Which means no updates, no new applications - nothing at all. Of course, a lot of the content can stay as-is (and will still be downloadable), but there are bound to be updates needed in order to maintain compatibility with external services, plus there will always be some bugs needing addressing. Begging the question of how such updates can reach Symbian enthusiasts across the globe.
Assuming they haven't been heeding my advice to make their apps self-updating over the last couple of months, developers of Symbian apps do still have a number of options, per application:
- leave the app as-is in the Nokia Store. This may not be ideal, if the app becomes incompatible with service APIs or if new bugs come to light.
- update the application and distribute it from the developer's own server as a self-signed SIS file. Such installers pop up an extra caution when installing and aren't suitable for low level utilities or anything that's ambitious, but they'll do fine for general purpose apps and games.
- update the application and distribute it from the developer's own server as an unsigned SIS file. With digitally signing now being next to impossible, such unsigned installers would only be compatible with devices with the 'installserver' patch in place - this typically comes along for the ride with custom firmware (e.g. here), but can be applied independently if required. Two years ago I'd have put the proportion of Symbian smartphones that had been 'hacked' in this way at under 0.1%, but with Nokia's withdrawal of official support and updates and with the shrinking of the Symbian userbase and the increasing popularity of custom firmwares, I'd put the proportion at between 1% and 5%, enough to be significant.
Of course, the last two options also require some central mechanism for letting users know of the update - something which will be lost with the Nokia Store freezing. It's possible that an alternative third party-run app store will arise for Symbian, but in the meantime I'd suggest simply letting us know at AAS (use this email address) and, assuming the update is significant enough, we can flag it up in our 'Flow' coloumn on the front page. To make things easier for us, please include a full changelog for the last version or two, plus a handful of screenshots in JPG format and any relevant download links, of course.
I'd also recommend that, even though we're past the January 1st, 2014 deadline, developers still look into incorporating update-checking into application code, so that, once a user has the application installed, they won't need to notice news of an update on a web site - the app itself will do the work. Even if it's as minimal as a textual notification. Third party champion apps like CuteTube have shown the way here.
Comments? What else can be done to keep the life of Symbian users and developers running as smoothly as possible in 2014?
Published by Steve Litchfield at 9:00 UTC, January 1st