Symbian is the DOS of mobile phones. The ubiquitous operating system sits snugly behind 110 million Symbian smartphones), according to the Symbian website. Ten years ago, Symbian was formed as a private company owned by then trendsetters Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Psion – the UK based company that developed Symbian originally. As things stand today, Nokia owns 42% of Symbian’s shares and the other 52% are divided among Sony Ericsson, Ericsson, Panasonic, Siemens and Samsung Electronics.
According to The Telegraph, Nokia is buying the other Symbian shareholders out, in a deal worth 209 million pounds (264 million Euro) but – and here comes the punchline – Nokia announced a plan to make Symbian available at no charge as open software. The Telegraph claims that the new, open, Symbian will be developed under the newly launched not-for-profit Symbian Foundation, and will merge together Nokia’s S60, Motorola and Sony Ericsson’s UIQ, and NTT DoCoMo’s MOAP (Mobile Oriented Applications Platform.)
The obvious question is – why? Nokia is not in the Operating System (OS) business, why, then, would it spend over 200 million pounds buying a system and then give it away for free? The answer is another chapter of a modern epic in which digital poetic justice is once again meted out in the form of free service. Symbian’s closest rivals are Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS, which is sold to handset manufacturers. Next, there’s Android: according to Google, Android is developed by a group of 30-odd technology and mobile companies known as The Open Handset Alliance. Google bills Android as “the first complete, open, and free mobile platform.”
Sounds familiar? It appears that Android and Open Symbian are set to share the same attention space. The main difference, of course, is that Symbian is already a hot market leader. Once Symbian is merged with other, existing and not unsuccessful OS, such as S60, UIQ and MOAP and offered for free, it will simply mean that Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and NTT DoCoMo users will be called to upgrade their existing OS, and … voila!
No wonder Google’s not impressed. I have a feeling that Googleites hate a taste of their own medicine, undercutting the competition by offering paid services for free is as Googlecore as their logo. Nokia’s knockout is the third headache Google face, following public realisation that Android is not going to gallop its way to stardom. A few days ago, non other than the Wall Street Journal online revealed that both Android and the handsets that are set to carry the new OS, will not be out before the end of the year. (“Google’s Mobile-Handset Plans Are Slowed“.) Third headache is Apple’s iPhone, which works on a somewhat similar business model to Google’s Android.
Then, there’s Blackberry. Personally, I see BB as a gorgeous yet ephemeral application that will not be able to offer serious competition to its giant rivals’ sexy design, global footprint or critical mass through millions of users. Yeah, I know that Madonna, The Queen and French President Sarkozy (aka ‘King of Bling‘ ) use it, but I have a strong feeling that their children and grandchildren would scoff at the Blackberry as a device of choice.
Lastly, we have Ubuntu‘s Mobile Internet Device (MID) Edition. Intel is responsible for this concept – a MID is larger than a Smartphone but smaller than a PC. Here, again, we have an open source OS that is likely to incorporate a growing number of plug-in applications, created by the cottage industry supporting Ubuntu’s desktop version. Will Ubuntu’s MID work with all handsets? In any case, the OS is still in test mode —
Having analysed and internalised Microsoft’s 30 years of domination, Nokia seeks to own the Mobile OS market in order to fence off competitors (Microsoft, iPhone and Android), pushing a unique, proprietary handset + OS combination each. The question therefore is not why Nokia seeks to won Symbian but why it took the Finish giant so long to realise what needs to be done.