Mobile OS war escalates

Staff Writer
10 Jul 2008



Magazine Issue Name: 

TA Jul 2008

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The battle for next-generation mobile operating system is escalating, with Nokia and its partners launching a new initiative to make Symbian open-sourced.

The handset giant announced last month plans to acquire all shares in Symbian from the existing shareholders and then establish a foundation with other industry players to make the software available royalty-free for all members of the foundation.

Nokia, Symbian and their main partners - Motorola, NTT DoCoMo and Sony Ericsson - have all agreed to contribute their use-interface technologies (including Symbian OS, S60, UIQ and MOAP-S) under the open-source Eclipse license, which will be available in 2010.

Market analysts widely welcomed the move and suggest the transition of Symbian from a profit-making licensor to an open-source provider will help give it a stronger defense against open-source initiatives headed by Google and the LiMo Foundation, as well as increased competition from Microsoft, Apple and Research in Motion.

Despite being used by over 60% of the world's smartpones, Symbian has been facing stiff competition in recent years, especially from Linux, which has become a real threat to Symbian's business with a number of Linux initiatives gaining serious momentum.

Adam Leach, principle Analyst at Ovum, called the Symbian Foundation move 'an endorsement of LiMo's approach and demonstrates that Nokia believes this is part of LiMo's success.'

He noted that the adoption of the Eclipse public license by the Symbian Foundation will encourage adoption and collaboration, pushing the market penetration of Symbian to the next level and achieving real momentum beyond Nokia's volumes.

At the same time, it will also put more pressure on Microsoft, which will need to illustrate that it provides a better user experience that justifies paying the royalty fees for Windows Mobile than using other open-source platforms.

Sharon Ballard, enabling technologies senior analyst at Yankee Group, said the Symbian Foundation also has an advantage over other open-source initiatives since it has the potential to tap into resources at Nokia and the strong coalition of support it can gain for the open-source platform.

To gain wider industry support for the Eclipse, Nokia, however, will need to balance and draw support for the Symbian Foundation from a broad coalition of companies in the mobile ecosystem, she said.

It will need to give them some autonomy and voice in the initiative, yet will maintain significant control over the initiative's future that ultimately ties back to its own business interests. 'It will definitely be a tough balancing act,' Ballard noted.

Despite this, she predicts that in the longer term the Symbian and Linux communities may join together, given the shared members of the foundation and the fragmentation of the existing mobile OS market.

'Consolidation of these open-source platforms is inevitable - as Apple and RIM will provide the alternative, continuing with their vertically integrated device/platform/services strategies in the foreseeable future,' she said.

These open initiatives (Android, LiMo and Symbian), meanwhile, are important intermediary steps necessary to enable developers to write more applications that can be leveraged by the mobile internet.

All of these initiatives will help jump start demand for the mobile internet and help drive adoption of mobile data services by enterprises and consumers, Ballard noted.

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