Around four weeks ago, on June 24th, 2008, Nokia purchased the whole of Symbian (for EUR 264 million) (previously it owned 48% of Symbian). And the reason why I said Nokia isn’t evil is the fact that despite the purchase, Nokia has decided to gradually open-source the entire Symbian platform code including even its own S-60 variant, over the next couple of years, under Eclipse Public License (EPL).
Nokia went further and established the non-profit Symbian foundation (www.symbianfoundation.org) which includes leading phone manufacturers like LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson; wireless carriers AT&T, NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone; plus semiconductor firms STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments. A huge ecosystem is already committed to the foundation:
WHY …. ?
Symbian OS is presently the leading most popular Smartphone platform in the world. Symbian started in 1998 and thus it also recently celebrate 10 years of its successful journey in the market (www.symbian.com/tenyears) 60% of the Smartphones manufactured today are built on Symbian platform which is a greater percentage than any other platform by far. Symbian OS represented approximately 7% of all mobile device sales in 2007. To date, more than 200 million Symbian OS based phones have been shipped, over 235 models, from 8 vendors and on more than 250 mobile networks around the world. More than 4 million developers are engaged in producing applications for Symbian devices.
According to a source, four billion people are expected to have joined the global mobile conversation by 2010. The mobile devices are now being looked upon more and more as a multi-utility gadget which is expected to provide the added functionality of a decent camera, music player a gaming console, internet browsing and virtually replace the personal computer. These advancing features must be accommodated while simultaneously lengthening battery life from model to model. That job falls largely to the OS and Open software is the basic building block for delivering this future as it accelerates and enhances the software development process to a large extent.
Since Symbian is already the leading open platform for mobile devices the establishment of the Symbian Foundation is expected to make it the undisputed platform for mobile innovation. The Symbian Foundation will promote the Symbian OS and provide royalty-free open platform and accelerate innovation.
As the Symbian foundation says, the purpose of Symbian is to:
“Bring to life a shared vision and to create the most proven, open and complete mobile software platform – available for free.”
But there is another good reason for Nokia to make such a move … The move is also a response to Google’s cheap Android (Wikipedia) platform which is already open source and threatens to potentially replace Symbian as the choice of a device-independent platform. The Open Handset Alliance (Wikipedia) is working on Android and includes Symbian producers LG, Motorola and Samsung as part of its membership.
Moreover the OS X platform which is used in the powerful and popular iPhone also pose a severe threat to Symbian. The OS X platform, unike Android, is a closed platform, and has been increaing its market share at a brisk rate.
Thus basically the Symbian foundation came together because its members felt the need to join hands in order to keep up with the ever-rising demands of the consumer and to rise above their competitors.
According to Nigel Clifford, CEO of Symbian:
“Ten years ago, Symbian was established by far sighted players to offer an advanced open operating system and software skills to the whole mobile industry…Our vision is to become the most widely used software platform on the planet and indeed today Symbian OS leads its market by any measure. Today’s announcement is a bold new step to achieve that vision by embracing a complete and proven platform, offered in an open way, designed to stimulate innovation which is at the heart of everything we do.”
FUTURE CONSEQUENCES …. ?
One can safely say that the Symbian foundation has a really bright future owing to a number of good reasons.
Firstly, because the minds of the world’s leading mobile manufacturers will unite to develop a single grand platform. This will lift the burden of developing the core OS from the individual. The move will let each phone maker shift attention to making devices unique rather than rewriting some or all of the basics. Thus the development takes lesser time and resources for each member.
Moreover each manufacturer has agreed to provide the various smart developments they have made so far to the cause:
- Nokia has agreed to contribute their popular S60 platform to the foundation.
- Motorola and Sony Ericsson will contribute the developments made in their special variant of Symbian, called UIQ.
- NTT DoCoMo will also do the same with the MOAP software it uses for many of its phones.
- Nokia intends to combine Symbian, S60, UIQ and MOAP platforms and that is an absolutely brilliant strategy as each platform contains its own pros and cons. The unison to create a single open mobile software platform will drive the development of newer and highly advanced software and incredible applications for the phones to the delight of the consumer.
- And that’s not it. There are lots of other affiliates which further strengthen the Symbian Foundation by providing services in the areas where they specialize.
Moreover when the code will become completely open-source which is expected to be in around 2 years then the innovations will be further boosted as the code will be available to a wider community.
The carriers are also happy with the union and say that the Symbian Foundation will alleviate a great deal of market confusion and disparity. The Symbian Foundation will reduce fragmentation in the industry and holds the promise of incorporating leading technology and the most mature software into a unified platform for the entire industry.
On the whole… the foundation is a gleaming prospect as ultimately the value of a phone depends not on the hardware but on the underlying software. Nokia bought Symbian with the stated long-term intention of giving the OS away as proper open source and to me it appears to be a wise decision on the part of Nokia as it protects the Symbian OS from upcoming rivals.
The move is also hugely beneficial for us the users as it would be great for us to get more and more innovative Smartphones with lots of wonderful features. This can certainly be a reality if the super powers of mobile software development industry honestly join hands and work in collaboration.
Already, there is lots of great news about the upcoming Nokia touch-phone tagged Nokia-tube which is expected to release until next year. Having seen some of the video releases that Nokia has provided for the S60 platform and if the leaks about the configuration of the Tube are to be believed, then I must say that even much hyped iPhone will soon be given a run for its money.
I really do hope that the Symbian Foundation provides a wonderful environment to its members and marshals a new era in the mobile software industry.