With all of the buzz around open source mobility and the recent launch of new open source initiatives to rival Google Android, it's not too far-fetched to envision the competing consortiums pairing up to create an open mobile OS blockbuster.
The most recent open source initiative to join the party is the Nokia-fueled Symbian Foundation, based on the open Symbian OS. While Symbian is a bit of a foreigner in the U.S., its stranglehold on the European market, which has allowed it to have the largest share of smart phones on the market, make it Google Android's true rival and a partnership between the two would not only kill the competition, but further fuel the use and development of open source mobile applications and services.
Announced last month, Nokia said the Symbian Foundation comprises Sony Ericsson, Motorola and NTT DoCoMo to unite the Symbian operating system, the S60 platform, the UIQ software platform and the MOAP application platform to create the single open-source platform. AT&T, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Vodafone have also joined the nonprofit Symbian Foundation to extend the appeal of the unified software platform. Open to all organizations, the Symbian Foundation will enable Nokia to contribute its Symbian and S60 software, while Sony Ericsson and Motorola will contribute technology from UIQ. NTT DoCoMo has also indicated that it will contribute its MOAP assets.
Google Android's 30-plus member Open Handset Alliance brings together a host of mobility and wireless heavyweights, including China Mobile, NTT DoCoMo, Sprint Nextel, Motorola, Samsung Electronics, T-Mobile, LG Electronics and HTC.
According to a recent research paper from J.Gold Associates, a Northborough, Mass.-based mobility consulting firm, a partnership between Android and Symbian may not be too far off. The report notes that the real advantage of endorsing an open source OS movement is to allow cross-device competition. That said, the need for openness and a level playing field are the precise reasons Google jumped into the mobile OS marketplace to begin with. However, it is also the same reason Google would get out if the same tasks can be accomplished by others.
"We expect that within the next three to six months, Symbian and Android will combine to provide a single open source OS," principal and founder Jack Gold wrote. "Many of the same sponsors are involved in both initiatives. Further, Google is learning how hard it is to create a good mobile OS, hence some of the recent slips."
Reports have surfaced suggesting that Google Android and developments by the Open Handset Alliance have been plagued by delays and that Android-based devices may not hit the market on schedule. Google, however, maintains that Android plans remain on track.
Gold added that Google's investment in Android is diluting the potential for Google to build compelling cross-device applications where it can generate substantial revenues. Symbian has its massive share in smart phones, but could use help from Google cementing its position in the open source community.
"And no doubt some of the intellectual property that Android is developing would fit nicely in some of the gaps Symbian currently has," Gold wrote. "The current number of developers and applications on the Symbian OS far surpass those working on Android. Harnessing these ISVs would be a huge win for Android. And since the true open version of Symbian won't be available for 18 to 24 months, there is ample time to combine the two code bases, combining the best of both into a consolidated OS."
Gold said those factors make a compelling argument for an Android and Symbian merger. If those efforts are combined, Gold said, it's likely more open source efforts, like the LiMo Foundation, will follow suit.
"The mobile market needs some level of consolidation of platforms if it is to make big leaps forward, as application developers currently struggle to make their products available on so many divergent platforms," he wrote. "Reducing the number of platforms would ultimately increase the availability of apps, and would also substantially lower support costs."
Additionally, Gold said, a joint venture would make it more compelling for business users to deploy mobile open source, since the merged companies could provide a standard platform while sourcing from multiple vendors, similar to the paradigm created by Microsoft's Windows Mobile.
A merger could also remove what Gold calls "carrier throttles," when carriers create unique user experiences on specifically altered and customized devices in order to maintain customer control.
"A combination of the Android and Symbian efforts would be good for the industry, good for Google and good for Symbian," Gold wrote. "It would also help spur a growth in the availability of applications and services. The downside is minimal. Everyone wins."
The only thing left is to figure out the name. Would it be "And-rian" or "Sym-droid?"