Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nokia Takes Control of Symbian

Mobile Software wars are heating up. I can count at least five major competitors now: RIM (Blackberry), Apple (iPhone), Palm, Microsoft (Windows Mobile) and Symbian (till now a consortium with Nokia as the largest shareholder).
Today, Nokia announced that it is investing $410 Million to take full control of Symbian and give the software away royalty-free. Microsoft charges around $10 per phone and Symbian supposedly charges around $5 per phone now. Google's android platform is still in development and Nokia is striving to aggressively compete on price.

The first two paragraphs of the press release are worth reading in its original form:
LONDON, UK; June 24, 2008 - Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and NTT DOCOMO announced today their intent to unite Symbian OS™, S60, UIQ and MOAP(S) to create one open mobile software platform. Together with AT&T, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Vodafone they plan to establish the Symbian Foundation to extend the appeal of this unified software platform. Membership of this non-profit Foundation will be open to all organizations. This initiative is supported by current shareholders and management of Symbian Limited, who have been actively involved in its development. Plans for the Foundation have already received wide support from other industry leaders.

To enable the Foundation, Nokia today announced plans to acquire the remaining shares of Symbian Limited that Nokia does not already own and then contribute the Symbian and S60 software to the Foundation. Sony Ericsson and Motorola today announced their intention to contribute technology from UIQ and DOCOMO has also indicated its willingness to contribute its MOAP(S) assets. From these contributions, the Foundation will provide a unified platform with 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.

From a network-era strategy perspective, this move is important as it signals the importance of orchestrating an ecosystem of hardware players, chip makers and operators who simultaneously both compete and cooperate. As of now, it has an impressive set of smartphones. My belief is that Symbian's current governance may have been somewhat complex and complicated with a mandate to make profit while it competes against Google and other open source movements. It is also a signal that Nokia is shifting the locale of competition away from software to design, features, interfaces etc. It also may allow Symbian to more aggressively court third-party applications and compete against Apple's iPhone platform that seems to have attracted many third-party developers.
But more important is the question: What does commitment to this foundation mean? What will Vodafone do to support Symbian while it also has to deal with Apple iPhone and support devices running Windows Mobile?
What will Microsoft do? What will hardware makers like Sony Ericsson and LG do? Worth watching as Google's android platform evolves in the coming months and years.

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