In a move that will become the sea change for an industry that had been largely controlled here in North America by consumer level distributors, the world’s largest cellphone handset manufacturer buys the software operating system and plans to make the code available to developers.
This move is 180 degrees from the way the recent development and release of Apple’s popular iPhone. All hardware and software comes from and can only be approved for use in the iPhone by Apple and its willing marketing partner, AT&T.
With Nokia’s ownership of the Symbian operating system software, and the decision to release the ability to use this operating system on any other manufacturers’ hardware, will naturally lead to the development of programs that can be used on many types of phones anyone purchases.
This ability for the software to work on many manufacturers’ phones will increase the competition for the more popular software applications that will get things done better, faster, and at a lower cost. An explosion of development will ensue to meet the demand for an application starved marketplace based upon the improved intelligence of the new generation of handsets.
Apple, however, will remain Apple.
This excerpted and edited from BusinessWeek -
Nokia Throws Open Mobile Software
Buying Symbian and making its mobile operating-system software open source should keep the likes of Apple and Microsoft on their toes
by Jennifer L. Schenker (With Mark Scott in London) – BusinessWeek,Technology (Paris) - June 24, 2008, 2:16PM EST
Few companies have the heft to take on Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), and Microsoft (MSFT)—much less all three at the same time. But Nokia (NOK), the world's largest handset maker, made it clear on June 24 that it does not intend to cede its ground in mobile-phone software to gate-crashing U.S. tech giants.
The Finnish company announced a plan to buy the 52.1% of shares it doesn't already own in London-based Symbian, the leading maker of operating system software for advanced mobile phones. In an industry-shifting move, Nokia will merge the company with parts of its own organization and then create an open-source foundation that will give away the resulting software for free to other handset makers.
Until now, Symbian has been owned by a consortium of rivals including Nokia, Sony (SNE), Ericsson (ERIC), Panasonic (MC), Siemens (SI), and Samsung. The company was set up a decade ago to develop an independent software platform for smartphones. And indeed, Symbian software is now used in more than half of all such devices, relegating rivals such as Microsoft's pint-size Windows Mobile to a thin slice of the market.
But in the past year, the complexion of the industry has shifted as a new crop of rivals, most using open-source Linux software, have barged in. Nokia and the newcomers are now locked in a high-stakes battle whose outcome could shape the future of mobile communication—and by extension, of the Internet, as a growing number of consumers around the world access the Web from handheld devices (BusinessWeek.com, 2/12/08).
But there's more to it than that. In an era of emerging wireless applications, a platform is merely the jumping-off point. The real focus in the industry is shifting from what's inside the phone to the snazzy online stuff a handset can access over the air—from mobile music and photo sharing to GPS and location-based services.
Before Nokia can convert millions of customers to wireless Web services, though, it has to give many more phones the capability found in its high-end N-Series models or the trendsetting Apple iPhone. That's where Symbian comes in: Today it's used mostly for top-of-the-line devices, but Nokia and others want to see it move down into mass-market products (known in industry jargon as "feature phones").
Today, such phones tend to use inflexible, homegrown software that's nightmarishly hard for handset makers and mobile operators to modify, limiting the opportunity for economies of scale possible if phones from many makers shared common software. Closed systems also make life more difficult for operators and suppliers of mobile software and services.
Can the new Symbian Foundation really be open and independent when Nokia has such a vested interest in its software? That's one reason so many big players in the mobile and tech industries continue to spread their bets.
In the end, it's unlikely any one operating system will prevail in handsets, as happened with Windows on personal computers. And for all its efforts to remain in the lead, Symbian could stumble if the rival initiatives do a better job of recruiting handset makers, independent software developers, service providers—and end users.
"This is a difficult industry," says Colly Myers, a former CEO of Symbian. "Part of it is technology; part of it is fashion; and part of it is consumer." As with anything tied to trends, he notes, "today's hero is tomorrow's fallen idol."
The big question here is will Symbian software development begin to tackle business development and mobility applications just as PALM attempted to do in its relationship with Motorola (Symbol Technologies) and JANAM ... or will this application segment become a backwater development eddy as it had for both of these business efforts ... who are left with a graduating path to the more capable linux OS for the future?
At the very least, consumers will win through a broader access to applications for use on a greater choice of devices that will provide full computer functionality, aided with access to the internet via WiFi or cell tower on an anytime, anywhere basis.
Welcome to the new emerging and open world of personal computer/phone mobility!