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Nokia develops open mobile software platform

Posted: 26 Jun 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:free-for-use platform  mobile phones  mobile software sector 

Epoch making. Unprecedented. Setting mobile software free.

These were just some of the superlatives used by the senior executives from Symbian, Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, Motorola, Texas Instruments, ST Microelectronics, Vodafone and others who attended the London conference where Nokia et al put some flesh on the announcement that the Finnish phone maker would pay about Rs.1,640.86 crore ($410 million) for the 52 per cent of Symbian Ltd it does not already own, and thus ease the way to creating the Foundation that will develop an open, free-for-use platform for mobile phones.

Well it is certainly a bold and innovative move by Nokia, one that will be a hugely significant one for the mobile software sector. "Typically selfless and self interested", as David Levin, a former CEO of Symbian and now CEO of United Business Media, the company that owns TechInsights, publisher of EE Times commented.

What a pity, then, that the assembled executives from nine of the companies involved in the shrewd, logical, grand and ambitious scheme could not, under questioning, let themselves admit that it is also a defensive move to efforts by Microsoft, Google—with its delayed Android project—and to a lesser extent Apple with the iPhone and a slew of other open source platforms such as the growing LiMO Foundation, to muscle in on the mobile phone operating system sector.

Uniting Symbian OS and the S60 platform, Motorola's UIQ and DoCoMo's MOAP is likely to take some time—two years to full completion was the target mentioned—and tax the "hugely experienced and talented" engineers Nokia executive vice president Kai Oistamo said he is looking forward to welcoming on Nokia's payroll.

Elements of the platform being created will be available to the developer community as soon as the Symbian Foundation is up and running, expected to be later this year or early 2009 when Nokia has competed the purchase of the shares owned by Ericsson, Sony-Ericsson, Matsushita, Siemens and Samsung in Symbian Ltd. So over the next two years, we will see the integration of the three user interface systems into one with a release of code sometime in 2011.

The Foundation—backed by five of the top mobile phone OEMs, three major operators, two chip makers—would be "open to all comers", commented Oistamo, and does not make non-fragmentation a condition of membership and licensing, but it is more than likely, there will be a compliance brand and cold shoulder approach to any that attempt to fragment the system.

And of course more direct input from chip makers and network operators, as well as closer integration of the OS and user interface, should make the whole platform more stable and attractive to operators and the millions of application developers. Operators such as Vodafone have long bemoaned the fact that they are having to accommodate too many platforms.

One analyst called the move "the ultimate manifestation of the 'boy scout effect', where Nokia believes that a greater opportunity for all will result in more profits for Nokia itself than going it alone." We could not agree more with the assessment of Richard Windsor, of Nomura Securities. And only time will tell whether this is a masterstroke that leads to total dominance, or the straw that broke the donkeys back.

There are two big risks here. So far, Symbian has been a tightly controlled ecosystem where fragmentation has not been allowed to happen. This control point seems in danger of being breached. This, combined with standardisation by consensus, could give proprietary systems such as Windows Mobile and Apple's an advantage in time-to-market and nimbleness.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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