Jaws dropped when in late June Nokia made the surprise announcement it would acquire the remaining shares of mobile software licensing company Symbian Limited and team with Sony Ericsson, Motorola and NTT DoCoMo to pool the Symbian OS, S60, UIQ and MOAP technologies for the purpose of creating a single open mobile software platform. With other industry bigwigs they also established the Symbian Foundation, a non-profit initiative dedicated to accelerating the availability of new services and mobile experiences. Nokia agreed contribute all of its shares in Symbian as well as the Symbian and S60 software to the foundation, with Sony Ericsson and Motorola committing to hand over UIQ and DoCoMo contributing its MOAP assets. The end result: A unified platform with a common UI framework available to all foundation members under a royalty-free license, with the first devices based on the Symbian Foundation code expected to arrive in 2010.
While Nokia's Symbian bombshell is no doubt a reaction to the threat posed by Google's Android OS and mobile Linux as a whole, there's also no question the handset giant is in the midst of a full-scale reinvention of its business, best exemplified by a series of new web and multimedia services aimed to counteract the gradual erosion of its longstanding smartphone dominance. While Nokia retains its worldwide smartphone sales lead with 42.4 percent of overall market share, according to industry research firm Gartner, in the third quarter the company suffered a sales decline of 3 percent year-over-year, moving 15.4 million units. (Research In Motion captured second place in Q3 with sales of 5.8 million and now boasts market share of 15.9 percent, an increase of 81.7 percent over the third quarter of 2007, while Apple followed in third with iPhone sales of 4.7 million to claim 12.9 percent of the global smartphone market, a 327.5 percent leap over a year earlier.) Gartner reports that Symbian still commands 49.8 percent of the worldwide smartphone OS market, meaning it offers something that Android can't: Scale. And not only is Symbian already ingratiated into the wireless ecosystem, but it's also free from Google's plans for mobile advertising revenue domination. Giving Symbian away free could turn out to be the most profitable decision Nokia ever made.