Your handset: hardware, or service platform?

Symbian, the mobile phone OS, is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary. Nokia, the major shareholder, is to buy out the other partners and this news is featured in the mainstream press, not just the specialists.

Symbian is used on over 200 models. But even Nokia uses it for only a proportion of its devices. Nokia will move it into an Open Source project, to which it will contribute the Symbian and S60 software. Sony Ericsson and Motorola will contribute technology from UIQ, and DOCOMO its MOAP(S) assets. The press release says that the Symbian Foundation “will provide a unified platform with [a] common UI framework. A full platform will be available for all Foundation members under a royalty-free license, from the Foundation’s first day of operations.”

There’s more information about the new Foundation and its governance from analyst CCS Insight, together with some thoughts for the future which I think boil down to: good move, should have been done long ago, might be too late, watch this space!

Symbian’s OS competition includes Linux (LiMo) and, of course, Windows Mobile. But The Guardian’s view is that this isn’t really about handset technology. It’s about the development of a service-based model for the mobile Internet, where Nokia’s competition includes Apple’s iPhone, Microsoft’s smartphone and, perhaps, Google’s attempt to change the commercial model with Android. ChannelWeb quotes Jack Gold who sees the Symbian foundation as an attempt to challenge Android. Other commentators look elsewhere for the significance.

Nokia’s own press release talks about “setting the future of mobile free”. Significantly, it also quotes Kris Rinne, SVP of Architecture and Planning at AT&T, to reinforce this message: “Mobile phones have turned into sophisticated multimedia computers and smart phones continue to grow in popularity. 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. This will … support AT&T in offering its differentiated services to consumers.”

For the enterprise, and the user-in-the-street, that is probably the biggest take.

Links:

Nokia buys Symbian in web push The Guardian, 25 Jun 2008
Nokia Squares Up to Software Rivals by Buying Symbian and Moving to Open Source CCS Insight, 24 June 2008, and comment
Can Nokia’s Symbian Foundation Nuke Google Android, Others? ChannelWeb, 24 Jun 2008
Mobile leaders to unify the Symbian software platform and set the future of mobile free Nokia press release, 24 Jun 2008
Symbian
LiMo Foundation (Linux Mobile)
Windows Mobile
Android – An Open Handset Alliance Project (Google)

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