updated 07:35 am EDT, Tue June 24, 2008
Nokia Buys Symbian
Nokia this morning changed the mobile industry by purchasing the remainder of Symbian that it hasn't previously owned and establishing the Symbian Foundation, an organization meant to unify and promote the Symbian OS for cellphones. The group includes phone makers that already produce Symbian phones such as LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson; it also includes carriers such as AT&T, NTT DoCoMo and Vodafone as well as semiconductor firms STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments. Despite Nokia's purchase, the company is putting Symbian and Series 60 in the hands of the Foundation and will give any current or future member royalty-free rights to use the platform.
The unified approach will also see Motorola and Sony Ericsson contribute the developments made in their special variant of Symbian, called UIQ, back into the main Symbian path; NTT DoCoMo will also do the same with the MOAP platform it uses for many of its phones. Samsung and Vodafone haven't actively contributed to Symbian in the past, but both plan to expand their use of the software; the Foundation will give simpler choices of operating systems for cellphones, according to Vodafone.
As part of the move, the Foundation also plans to further open Symbian code over time. While the software has been partly open between partners for awhile, the Foundation will make some components open source immediately once the Foundation is completed and will gradually open source as much as possible using an Eclipse Public License.
All the involved companies hope that the change will not only promote Symbian but also lift the burden of developing the core OS from the individual partners themselves. The move today will let each phone maker shift attention to making devices unique rather than rewriting some or all of the basics, Nokia says.
The strategy puts 235 current phones under the same banner and shores up Symbian against perceived threats. Google's Android platform is already open source and threatens to potentially replace Symbian as the choice of a device-independent platform; the Open Handset Alliance rallying behind Android includes Symbian producers LG, Motorola and Samsung as part of its membership. Symbian also faces internal challenges from the decline of Motorola as well as the external challenge of more closed platforms such as OS X iPhone, which is now the third-ranked smartphone OS in marketshare after Symbian and BlackBerry OS.
The Symbian Foundation should start in earnest during the first half of 2009, by which time Nokia expects that its buyout of Symbian will been approved by regulators.