Nokia, the world's largest mobile device manufacturer, joined forces with other mobility heavyweights to create an open mobile software platform centered on the Symbian operating system. The move pits Nokia against Google, which is working with an ecosystem of partners to create the open-source Google Android platform.
Nokia also announced its intent to acquire the remaining 52 percent stake in Symbian Ltd. that it doesn't already own for a price tag of roughly $410 million.
Symbian, a mobile operating system and software maker used widely throughout Europe, owns about two-thirds of the market for smartphone operating systems. Symbian, however, has yet to really take hold in the U.S., though the foundation may be a driving force to get Symbian more mind share in areas it has yet to infiltrate.
Currently, there are more than 200 million phones across 235 models that are based on the Symbian OS, along with tens of thousands of third-party applications available for it.
On Tuesday, Nokia said it has partnered with 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 party, dubbed the Symbian Foundation, to extend the appeal of the unified software platform.
The Symbian Foundation is nonprofit and will be open to all organizations. Nokia said Tuesday it plans to contribute its Symbian and S60 software to the foundation, while Sony Ericsson and Motorola will contribute technology from UIQ. NTT DoCoMo has also indicated that it will contribute its MOAP assets.
"From these contributions, the foundation will provide a unified platform with a common UI framework," Nokia said in a statement. "A full platform will be available for all foundation members under a royalty-free license, from the foundation's first day of operations."
Creating a foundation, or consortium, to fuel development and promote open-source platforms is nothing new. Google Android and its Open Handset Alliance and the LiMo Foundation are also working to create open platforms to enable device and software manufacturers to work in concert to develop open mobile computing platforms.
Google Android and the Open Handset Alliance comprise more than 30 partners, including heavyweights like Sprint, T-Mobile and China Mobile. Though earlier this week it was reported that Android has been plagued by setbacks, Google is adamant that its Android plans remain on schedule and devices based on Android will be available in the second half of this year.
The LiMo Foundation, another consortium working on an open-source Linux-based mobile operating system, also boasts an impressive roster of major mobility players. LiMo joins together Verizon Wireless, SK Telecom, Infineon Technologies, Kvaleberg, Mozilla, Red Bend Software and SFR. The LiMo Foundation, which launched in January 2007, also includes Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone, some of the same companies that are working with Nokia on the Symbian Foundation.
Nokia's Symbian buy and the formation of the foundation come as consumer and business demand for mobile devices and smartphones grows and the competition between mobile operating systems heats up. With Symbian under its belt, Nokia and Symbian will be better served to compete with the Apple iPhone, Microsoft Windows Mobile and Research In Motion's BlackBerry, along with Palm's mobile operating system.
Nokia said member contributions to the foundation will come through open collaboration and will be integrated to enhance the platform. The foundation will make certain components available as open source at the launch and then work to establish further open-source mobile software offerings. Nokia said the software will be available over the next two years and will be released under Eclipse Public License (EPL) 1.0.
"Establishing the foundation is one of the biggest contributions to an open community ever made," said Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo in the statement. "Nokia is a strong supporter of open platforms and technologies as they give the freedom to build, maintain and evolve applications and services across device segments and offer by far the largest ecosystem, enabling rapid innovation. Today's announcement is a major milestone in our device software strategy."
Other device manufacturers agreed that an open-source foundation model will fuel proliferation of not only devices, but of mobility applications and software.
"The complete, consistent platform that the foundation plans to provide will allow manufacturers to focus on their unique differentiation at a device level," said Dick Komiyama, president of Sony Ericsson, in a statement. "Sony Ericsson believes that the unified Symbian foundation platform will greatly simplify the world for handset manufacturers, operators and developers, enabling greater innovation in services and applications to the benefit of consumers everywhere."
And wireless carriers said organizations such as the Symbian Foundation will alleviate a great deal of market confusion and disparity.
"Mobile phones have turned into sophisticated multimedia computers, and smartphones continue to grow in popularity," said Kris Rinne, senior vice president of architecture and planning at AT&T, in a statement. "The Symbian Foundation will reduce fragmentation in the industry and holds the promise of incorporating leading technology and the most mature software into a unified platform for the entire industry. This will create an environment that will encourage and enable developers to build compelling applications that will positively affect our customers' lives and support AT&T in offering its differentiated services to consumers."
According to Nokia, the foundation is expected to begin operations during the first half of 2009, subject to the closing of the Symbian Ltd. acquisition.