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Nokia takes control of Symbian

  • 09 November 2010
  • Written by 
  • Published in Strategy

Nokia has taken control of the Symbian smartphone operating system from the Symbian Foundation, the body it set up two years ago after buying out other partners in Symbian and making the software open source.

Nokia has commited to keeping the platform open but the Foundation's role will be scaled back to that of a licensing body.

In a statement the Foundation said it would become a legal entity responsible for licensing software and other intellectual property, such as the Symbian trademark, and that "Nokia has committed to make the future development of the Symbian platform available to the ecosystem via an alternative direct and open model."

In a posting on Nokia's blog site, Nokia's senior vice president, smartphones, Jo Harlow, stressed the company's continuing commitment to Symbian, saying: "Do not confuse the end of the Foundation with the end of the Symbian platform.

"The Foundation has been very important in steering the platform through increasingly challenging waters, but the Foundation and the platform are not the same. Nokia has no intention to change the plans announced on the 21st October to continue to develop and evolve Symbian."

In a Nokia press release she said: "The changes announced by the foundation have no impact on Nokia's Symbian device roadmaps or shipping commitments. The platform powers hundreds of millions of smartphones - including our own - and we expect to deliver ongoing support and innovation benefitting the Symbian ecosystem in the future."

Nokia is keen to stress the success of Symbian, saying that some 400 million Symbian powered devices have been sold to date, 25 percent of these in the last 12 months, and that, by the end of 2010, it expects to have sold 50 million devices running the latest version of the OS, Symbian^3.

In that 21 October announcement Nokia said it would make Qt the development platform for both Symbian and MeeGo, internally and externally and would no longer issue discrete upgrades to the underlying Symbian OS, thus assuring developers that their apps would work on future devices and promising users that their devices would be upgradable to support future applications.


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Nokia's decision was welcomed by Gartner research VP, Carolina Milanesi. In a blog posting she wrote "[We] have been advocating [that] Nokia should take such a step for quite some time. While Symbian as a platform has a role to play (albeit with a lot of work to be done on UI) Symbian Foundation failed to thrive as an open source entity driving innovation."

She added: "Nokia has been the main contributor to Symbian for quite some time now (aside from the Japanese vendors Sharp and Fujitsu), so this announcement does not represent a change to volume expectations and potential market for developers. We expect that Nokia's decision to release the platform under a new open model will mainly serve these vendors rather than representing a real alternative to other manufacturers."

Nokia acquired Symbian in 2008 and established the Symbian Foundation, making Symbian available royalty free and open source. According to Harlow, "At that time, this was the fairest way to ensure that the huge ecosystem benefitting from Symbian development didn't lose out. Since then the competitive landscape has changed considerably. With competition comes choice and every company has had to make choices about their software strategy based on their own priorities and capabilities."

The first phase of the foundation's transition will see it reduce its operations and staff numbers. By April 2011 it will be governed by a group of non-executive directors tasked with overseeing the organisation's licensing function.

The announcement came on the eve of the annual Symbian Exchange & Exposition (SEE 2010), being held in Amsterdam. That event will go ahead as planned.



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