Nokia Puts the Leash Back on Symbian

After watching its Symbian smartphone devices lose ground in theglobal market for several straight quarters, Nokia has moved to cutits losses by shrinking the scope of the Symbian Foundation.

On Monday, Nokia announced that it will take over development of theSymbian platform from the foundation.

The foundation will devolve into a legal entity responsible forlicensing software and other intellectual property such as the Symbiantrademark.

However, the Symbian Exchange and Exposition 2010 in Amsterdam will goon as scheduled on Nov. 9 and 10, the Foundation said.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Though Symbian remains the world’s most popular smartphone OS, it’s been losing significant share over the past several quarters to devices running on Apple’s iOS and Google’s upstart Androidoperating system.

IDC’s figures for the third quarter of 2010 show that the worldwidesmartphone market has grown nearly 90 percent year over year. Nokia isstill the world leader in terms of units sold, but the average sellingprices of its devices have been falling and its market share keeps onshrinking, IDC said.

Meanwhile, Apple’s iPhone and a variety of Android handsets from several different manufacturers are there to take up the slack.

Nokia’s decision to take over the reins of Symbian app development from theSymbian Foundation may foreshadow the eventual disappearance of theplatform.

“This is a clear reflection of Symbian’s inability to compete againstother smartphone operating systems,” Chris Hazelton, a researchdirector at the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider. “Nokia will be the onlycompany using Symbian going forward, so there is no need to have aseparate organization working on development.”

Nokia has reaffirmed its commitment to the Symbian platform.

The Symbian Foundation did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Symbian’s Slow Boat to Oblivion

Nokia will not make significant investments in Symbian or pay it muchattention in the long run, Hazelton predicted. While it will continueto offer mid-range smartphones on the platform, “MeeGo will be thefuture for Nokia,” Hazelton predicted.

MeeGo was formed in February through the merging of Intel’s Moblin andNokia’s Maemo mobile operating systems. It uses the Qt applicationdevelopment environment, which lets developers write apps once and runthem across multiple devices.

Nokia has already said it will use the Linux-based MeeGo OS in itsflagship N-series platform.

Even though there are still phones in the works that are slated for Symbian, such as the E7, the platform’s future doesn’t look especially bright. “Symbian will slowly be phased out as Nokia pushes MeeGo into its fullrange of smartphones over the next few years,” Hazelton opined.

It’s the Vision, Folks

Symbian’s possible demise might be the result of missteps Nokia’sleadership made over the years.

“They came up with the Qt platform, which was supposed to letdevelopers port apps to both Symbian and MeeGo, but it seems to methis created fragmentation in the development environment, and we allknow how critical the development environment is right now,” MaribelLopez, founder and principal analyst at Lopez Research, toldLinuxInsider.

Back in 2008, Nokia had taken over the 52 percent of Symbian it didn’t already own and set up the Symbian Foundation to lure applicationdevelopers, then-CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasuvo announced. The idea was tochallenge iOS and the then-nascent Android operating system.

However, “the direction they were goingin didn’t seem to be where they were going to go, and now they havenew management, and I think you’ll see a lot of changes in Nokia in thenext three to six months,” Lopez explained. “I hope it’s only threemonths because things move so fast in this industry.”

The reduction in the Symbian Foundation’s role follows Nokia’sappointment of former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop as its newpresident and CEO.

“Nokia was trying to shake up the culture a bit and, also, it’s verymuch a software game right now,” Lopez said.

No Pill for Corporate Heartburn

In hiring Elop, Nokia emphasized the executive’s experience in the software industry. However, Lopez fears the Finnish phone giant may have misplaced its bets.

“Stephen was a very unusual choice,” Lopez pointed out. “One,culturally, he comes from a very different background than Nokia; two,he’s not been in the mobile space; and three, the company he came fromwasn’t having much success in the mobile space,” she added.

“In the short term, Nokia will continue to lose market share in thesmartphone space,” the 451 Group’s Hazelton predicted. “Nokia needs toinvest heavily in MeeGo, but there’s not much not evidence that it’sdoing so.”

Nokia must deliver “strong smartphone offerings that can integratewith devices powered by Intel and running the MeeGo OS,” Hazeltonsuggested. Such devices would include tablets, laptops and in-vehiclecomputers.

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