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Symbian Foundation braces for challenging road ahead

The Symbian Foundation made its official debut at CTIA with a beta Web site, new members, big plans for openness

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The Symbian Foundation made its official debut at CTIA Wireless with a new logo, a beta Web site and ambitious aims. The newly nonprofit organization hopes to rejuvenate the Symbian operating system to compete with fast-rising stars Apple and Google, but it will have to overcome its close ties with Nokia first.

"We are taking a new Symbian brand and identity and going out at a different level and having a different dialogue with developers then we ever had before," said executive director Lee Williams. "In the past, we were handcuffed in terms of what we could do to excite them. Those handcuffs are off."

Not everyone is as convinced that Symbian's open-source mobile operating system is as unencumbered as Williams implied. At a luncheon at CTIA, foundation members outlined the road ahead for Symbian, including no shortage of challenges. The Foundation has only 200 employees, meaning that much of its code development will be done by Nokia, which gained 1,500 Symbian employees when it completed its acquisition in December. At launch, Symbian has made 4% of its code open but plans to be fully open up by June. Symbian will also fully integrate Nokia's S60 middleware and user interface (UI) with the OS and eventually support touch interfaces and widgets – new to Symbian, but quickly becoming table stakes in the industry.

Sony Ericsson was the first handset maker to announce a Symbian Foundation-based handset, the Idou 12-megapixel camera phone, planned for next year. William Maggs, head of developer and partner programs for Sony Ericsson US, stressed that its developers are most interested in entertainment applications than the platform wars, and the handset maker joined the foundation because it had to put tools in front of them to make it easy to enable those applications on all devices.

"The fact is, Symbian has a great degree of acceptance among many of our customers," Maggs said. "It's complex situation with global players in all these countries. I suspect the market will determine how many operating systems we use in four to five years, but we're here because this is how we need to do things to do business."

Steve Glagow, vice president of marketing operations for Orange, which supports Symbian as a strategic OS, agreed that, from a carrier's perspective, the biggest issue is fragmentation. Apple was successful because it was one phone with one OS, he pointed out, but Symbian is more complex. He estimated that upwards of 75% Orange subscribers have no idea they even have an OS, let alone which one it is.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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