Symbian goes royalty-free with new foundation

Symbian this week announced the formation of the Symbian Foundation, with Nokia, AT&T, LG Electronics, Motorola, NTT DOCOMO, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Vodafone.

Nokia is to acquire all shares in Symbian from the existing shareholders and then contribute all Symbian's software assets (including Symbian OS, S60, UIQ and MOAP-S) into the Symbian Foundation. The not-for-profit organization will then make all elements available under a royalty-free license to all members of the Foundation. The membership of the foundation will be open to all for an annual membership fee of €963 (US$1,500).

Fragmentation within the software platform market is the biggest single barrier to mobile data services and revenues. There are currently many initiatives aimed at solving this. The two most promising candidates to make a real difference are, in Ovum's view, the LiMo Foundation and, now, the Symbian Foundation.

Together with Microsoft's growing presence in the market there is a real opportunity for the industry to start to coalesce their activities around these platforms. In the longer-term is a bigger opportunity for the Symbian and Linux communities to become closer and indeed join together; this would make a significant impact on service providers' ability to derive revenue from mobile services.

The creation of the Symbian Foundation reflects the fact that Symbian's competitive landscape has started to change rapidly over the past year with new entrants and old competitors increasing their influence.

Linux has become a real threat to Symbian's business with a number of Linux initiatives gaining serious momentum (for instance, LiMO and Google's Open Handset Alliance). The success of LiMo is of particular importance here because the model that Nokia and others have adopted for the Symbian Foundation is essentially the same as that of LiMo. This is an endorsement of LiMo's approach and demonstrates that Nokia believes that this is part of its success.

Ovum believes that this approach is positive news for Symbian and for the industry.

Open source principles are increasingly used to establish standards in the mobile industry (see Ovum's report, Open source software in mobile phones, February 2008). The adoption of the Eclipse public license by the Symbian Foundation will encourage adoption and collaboration. This is what the Symbian ecosystem needs to push its market penetration to the next level and achieve real momentum beyond Nokia's volumes.

The original intention of the founding shareholders of Symbian (Psion, Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson and Panasonic) was to create an industry standard based on the Symbian OS. It was a reaction against Microsoft and move by the leading handset manufacturers of the day to create their own platform, owned "˜by the industry', to avoid being commoditized by the US software giant, as the OEMs in the PC market had been.

The competitive threat from Microsoft at the time was perhaps over-estimated but today they are still aggressively targeting OEMs with Windows Mobile and achieving some market success.

Despite a promising start and later becoming the leading third party operating system (achieving shipments in 206 million mobile phones as of March this year). Symbian has not established itself as an industry standard.

This was due to a number of factors, but a crucial part of this was Nokia's ownership of Symbian and OEMs being reluctant to license key software components from their biggest competitor.

Symbian's commercial success has been driven by Nokia and its adoption of the Symbian OS as part of the S60 platform, which it has deployed widely within its device portfolio.

Adam Leach, Principal Analyst

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