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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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Like Nokia, Symbian has a relatively small market share in the US high-end handset market, where awareness is limited and only a few smartphones are deployed with carriers, the latest being the E71 with AT&T. AT&T, which joined the foundation last summer, is looking ahead 24 to 36 months to Symbian's future potential, said Roger Smith, AT&T's director of next generation services.

"Market share is a big part of making it palatable," Smith said. "The web landscape is very fertile. That is where lower-level development on Symbian is going to shine."

Most Symbian Foundation members stressed the importance of the basics of development, what Oren Levine, head of innovation platform marketing and devices R&D for Nokia, called "less sexy, self-sustaining apps." Extended battery lifetime and improved calling will take precedence over games and entertainment-driven features that have dominated the most recent batch of app store launches.

The Symbian Foundation isn't the only open-source initiative today. The competing Linux Mobile Foundation was formed in 2007 by handset makers Motorola, NEC, Panasonic and Samsung and operators Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo. Much like the Open Handset Alliance, formed in November 2007, the organization's goal is to create an open software platform across the industry.

There are three cornerstones for any platform to be successful, according to Andrew Shikiar, director of global marketing at LiMo. These are transparent governance, a business model that accommodates all players and an intellectual property rights (IPR) policy. Shikiar said that LiMo excels in its independent nature, which is something operators require.

"[The Symbian Foundation] will have a hard time shaking the Nokia label," Shikiar said. "It will be difficult to get full engagement of their members when they see it so closely aligned with their competitor. Nokia will have first-mover advantage."

The Symbian Foundation isn't denying Nokia's first-mover advantage, but it did make a point to stress that Nokia wouldn't be a long-term limiting factor. By 2011, Symbian Foundation officials said, other developers will be contributing far more to the code than Nokia.

"In the end, openness will win, but there will be challenges," said Symbian Foundation chief technologist David Wood, outlining three levels of openness. The first is having an open SDK, followed by open-source code and the final level, where the most innovation is, is openness of decision making, governance, roadmaps and research. Each step is hard. And you will say, 'Damn it, we are going to take charge; be the megalomaniac.' But ultimately openness will win out."

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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