Open OS movement becomes stronger as Symbian joins the fray

25 Jun

After the LiMo (Linux Mobile) Foundation and the Open Handset Aliance (Android), we have yet another consortium that hopes to make a difference in the mobile industry by going open source. Biggies like Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and NTT DoCoMo have joined hands to form the Symbian foundation to develop a new open source mobile operating system. Under the agreement, Nokia will acquire Symbian completely while Motorola and Sony Ericsson will contribute technology from UIQ, a company that the handset vendors jointly hold. NTT DoCoMo will contribute technology from its MOAP(S) or the (Mobile Oriented Application Platform) that it employs on its range of Symbian phones.

Eventually, the Symbian Foundation will come out with a unified platform that borrows the best technologies from all the foundation members. The success of the Symbian Foundation will be critical to global market leader, Nokia, which is facing a severe threat from Apple’s iPhone and expects further erosion of its market share once device based on Google’s Android operating system start shipping later this year or early next year.

Another founding member of the alliance, Sony Ericsson, is also finding it difficult to counter the iPhone with its current Symbian UIQ platform. Earlier this year, the handset vendor announced its plans to sell a high-end device based on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system and is expected to hit the shelves in the fourth quarter of this year. Relying solely on Windows Mobile would hurt Sony Ericsson as it has to pay a royalty to Microsoft for every Windows Mobile device it ships.

Industry sources reveal that handset vendors have to pay Microsoft royalties in the range of US$30 to $40 for every device shipped. This cost is eventually passed on to the end consumer. However, if the Symbian Foundation is able to deliver a high-class mobile operating system platform, a vendor like Sony Ericsson will be able to do away with such royalty by using the new Symbian-based operating system than Microsoft’s Windows Mobile.

Having said that, we are yet to see any path breaking phones arising from such alliances. While the LIMO Foundation does have a few products, none have been best sellers. As far as Android goes, reports in the media indicate delays in the implementation of the operating system on handsets. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to gain traction with handset vendors for implementing its Windows Mobile platform. This year, Microsoft hopes to ship as many as 300,000 Windows Mobile devices in India alone, with brands like Asus, HTC, LG, MWg and Samsung.

The real test for these operating system alliances will be next year, when, hopefully, consumers will be able to see commercial handsets running on these ‘open’ operating systems.

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