Published on June 25th, 2008 | by Babar Bhatti0
Nokia Uses Symbian In The Fight Against Android, iPhone
Nokia has an answer to the recent threats from Google and Apple: transform Symbian to an open-source app platform. This is a major development for the developers of mobile applications. One thing is clear: the upcoming battle is mainly about the apps, not about handsets (or the mobile network operators) . From both technology and business perspective, application development teams have an important decision to make: Which platform is their first priority: iPhone, Windows, Android or Symbian? Whoever can convince the best developers to write the killer apps on their platform is likely to be the dominant player. The game just got more interesting!
A very good article from Businessweek on Nokia’s move.
Nokia announced a plan on June 24 2008 to buy the 52.1% of shares it doesn’t already own in London-based Symbian, the leading maker of operating system software for advanced mobile phones. In an industry-shifting move, Nokia will create an open-source foundation that will give away the resulting software for free to other handset makers.
Until now, Symbian has been owned by a consortium of rivals including Nokia, Sony (SNE), Ericsson (ERIC), Panasonic (MC), Siemens (SI), and Samsung. The company was set up a decade ago to develop an independent software platform for smartphones. And indeed, Symbian software is now used in more than half of all such devices, relegating rivals such as Microsoft’s pint-size Windows Mobile to a thin slice of the market.
But in the past year, the complexion of the industry has shifted as a new crop of rivals, most using open-source Linux software, have barged in. Nokia and the newcomers are now locked in a high-stakes battle whose outcome could shape the future of mobile communication—and by extension, of the Internet, as a growing number of consumers around the world access the Web from handheld devices (BusinessWeek.com, 2/12/08).
The new Symbian Foundation will be steered by a board of 10 members: five from phone manufacturers Nokia, LG Electronics, Motorola (MOT), Samsung, and Sony Ericsson, and five from network operators and chipmakers AT&T (T), NTT DoCoMo (DCM), Vodafone (VOD), STMicroelectronics (STM), and Texas Instruments (TXN). The goal? “To be the most widely used platform in the world,” said Nigel Clifford, Symbian’s chief executive, during a London press conference on June 24.
Moving into Mass Market
But there’s more to it than that. In an era of emerging wireless applications, a platform is merely the jumping-off point. The real focus in the industry is shifting from what’s inside the phone to the snazzy online stuff a handset can access over the air—from mobile music and photo sharing to GPS and location-based services. That’s why Nokia is racing to deliver all manner of such offerings through a combination of in-house development and aggressive acquisitions. On June 23, for instance, it bought Berlin-based Plazes, which offers mobile social networking.
That’s where Symbian comes in: Today it’s used mostly for top-of-the-line devices, but Nokia and others want to see it move down into mass-market products (known in industry jargon as “feature phones”).
Today, such phones tend to use inflexible, homegrown software that’s nightmarishly hard for handset makers and mobile operators to modify, limiting the opportunity for economies of scale possible if phones from many makers shared common software. Closed systems also make life more difficult for operators and suppliers of mobile software and services.
Symbian has been scrambling to move its software onto less expensive midrange devices of the sort now powered mostly by proprietary operating systems. But it will have to compete against newcomers like Android, an initiative backed by Google, which seeks to create a Web-friendly software platform, based on open-source software, for midrange phones. Reports emerged on June 23 that Android may be delayed until early 2009 due to technical challenges, but nobody is dismissing its potential to shake up the industry.
In the meantime, a Linux initiative called the LiMO Foundation, which has the backing of big mobile operators including Vodafone and Verizon Wireless (VZ), has been gaining traction in the marketplace (BusinessWeek.com, 5/14/08). Some 50 operators and handset and chip makers have signed up, and 16 handsets using the LiMO operating system are already on the market. Additional partners and up to 10 more handsets are expected to be announced in July, says Morgan Gillis, the LiMO Foundation’s executive director.