The greatest news of the week seems to be that Nokia is going to completely buy out the biggest mobile OS maker Symbian. Nokia which already held a 48 p.c. stake in the company is going to buy out the remaining 52 p.c. So what? Is it a raw deal? What does Nokia want to do with the new deal in picture? Let us have a look.

Symbian: Symbian was a company which until now designed operating systems for mobile devices. The Os was largely proprietary meaning that no one else could use it without the permission of the Symbian consortium. Yes, the Symbian consortium (Symbian Ltd.) was established on June 24 1998 as a partnership project between the big bosses of the mobile space Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Psion, to exploit the convergence between the PDA’s and the Mobile Phones. Soon other players joined the consortium like LG electronics, Samsung, Panasonic, and NTT DoCoMo. 

What was the aim of the Symbian consortium? The Symbian consortium aimed at developing a unified closed source OS which the members could use with some modifications pertaining to the user interfaces and development of device drivers for proprietary hardware boards. The organizations joining the consortium after paying a particular license fees which would entitle them under the Eclipse License and they could use the OS.

Market: Symbian OS is the leading OS in the ‘smart mobile device’ market. Statistics published February 2007 showed that Symbian OS had a 67% share of the ‘smart mobile device’ market, with Microsoft having 13% through Windows CE and Windows Mobile and RIM having 10%. Other competitors include Palm OS, iPhone OS, Qualcomm’s BREW, Google Android and SavaJe.

Current Trends and the OS (open sourcing) of OS’s (operating systems): Over the years Nokia has been the leading mobile phone manufacturer in the world. Infact every 4 out of the 10 phones sold in the world is a Nokia. But the general trend over the years in the Smartphone market has been shifting to a more ready to market device. This has led to the focus on software development for the Smartphone’s. However the developer community was not too happy. Despite the software being licensed out the developers had tough time adapting themselves to different user interfaces wherein Symbian has long served as the underpinnings for several palmtop interfaces, including Nokia’s own S60, Sony Ericsson’s UIQ, and NTT/DoCoMo’s MOAP (Mobile Oriented Applications Platform). These varying user interfaces were a problem. This is where the developer’s started shifting to the open source movements like LiMo (Linux Mobile) and then Google came out with Android. The Symbian Foundation will unify those user interfaces, which will likely make application development easier and more consistent across a wide range of phones. This is exactly what Google wants to do with Android: unify the mobile Linux community behind a consistent interface that’s compatible across a wide variety of phones and available under an open-source license. According to sources at Nokia, code will be released to the public for the first time in either the last quarter of 2008 or the first quarter of 2009. All of Symbian OS and its development tools will be made available by 2010. At this time, Nokia and its Symbian Foundation allies plans on releasing the program under the Eclipse Public License 1.0. In short, Symbian and its major interfaces are well on their way to becoming a completely open source operating system and development platform. This spells potential trouble for Linux embedded systems. Google, faced with delays in its own Linux-based Android platform, made the best of things in its response to Nokia’s news. A representative for Sean Carlson, Google’s manager of global communications, said, “Openness fosters innovation, benefiting consumers. We’re very pleased to see other major players in the mobile industry moving in this direction.”

Winners and Losers: 

1. Apple can be seen sailing through the Smartphone market through innovation. It has already created a niche market for itself through technical prowess. So it is highly unlikely that its proprietary software policy will affect the sales. It can continue to innovate and attract new customers. Thus Apple is going to remain largely unaffected by this deal.

2.  Symbian is been running on 60% of the mobile phones worldwide courtesy Nokia and since majority of Nokia’s phones run Symbian it’s obvious that Nokia does not want to lose out in the race and wants to be the market leader and develop Symbian to match the other upcoming competitors like android and the Limo. Moreover unifying the various platforms and open sourcing is going to make the developer community stick to Symbian Os and help in fostering innovation and better software for Nokia users. The developer community which was being wooed by the Open source Linux Mobile community and the Google’s fully open sourced Android are now going to stick to Symbian. Thus Nokia clearly emerges as the winner out of this deal. It is going to lose out on some revenues though the licensing but it is going to earn through other means like lower development costs and faster innovation.

3.  Google and the Linux community which share the same ideology will be losing out due to increased competition and largely because the LiMo is still very unorganized, compared to symbian which has a dedicated developer pool working towards a concerted goal. It is still Even-Stevens for them.

4.  The odd man out remains to be Microsoft and the Canadian based Research In Motion (RIM). They have for long been closed source and charging high amount of licensing fees. Microsoft’s share of 15% is sure to decline. Because unlike earlier the price to develop and time to market mobile software and Os is going to come down drastically with the opening up of Symbian and presence of other open source players like Google and LiMo. These have already brought down the cost to almost nil. So obviously companies are going to stick with Nokia-Symbian which would provide a cheaper solution and support than MS or RIM. So Microsoft Corporation clearly stands out to lose and will have to come out quickly to maintain its declining market share.

Thus Nokia-Symbian symbiotic existence and opening up is not only going to help the developers world around to innovate further without worrying about the platform and licenses, improve the time to develop and finally help bring down the prices . This will ultimately bring down the price of the mobile phones and the ultimate winner will be the end user.




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