Symbian platform development shifting to Nokia next year

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Nokia (NYSE:NOK) will assume ongoing development of the open-source Symbian smartphone platform beginning in March 2011, with the nonprofit Symbian Foundation--presently in charge of the operating system's evolution--transitioning to a legal entity responsible for licensing software and other intellectual property. Nokia pledges to make Symbian available to the mobile ecosystem "via an alternative direct and open model," according to a statement. The Symbian Foundation will reduce operations and staff numbers in the weeks ahead--the organization adds that by April 2011, it will be governed by a group of non-executive directors overseeing its licensing efforts. Further details on the transition will be announced at a later date.

Symbian Foundation executive director Tim Holbrow said the 2008 move to launch the group was "absolutely the right decision at the time," but economic realities and a shifting mobile industry focus forced a change. "The result of this is that the current governance structure for the Symbian platform--the foundation--is no longer appropriate," Holbrow said in a statement.

Symbian retains its crown as the leading smartphone OS worldwide, controlling 41.2 percent of the global market according to data published in mid-August by research firm Gartner. It was just a year ago that Symbian-based devices represented 51 percent of the market, however--faced with mounting competition from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's Android, the platform has struggled to attract both consumer and developer interest. In recent weeks, both Sony Ericsson and Samsung Electronics have stated they will longer manufacture Symbian-based devices; even Nokia has said it will embrace the Qt cross-platform development environment as its sole application creation framework--moving forward, developers who build apps in Qt will be able to deploy their software across devices running both the Symbian and MeeGo operating systems. 

The Symbian Foundation's continued existence appeared doubtful until last week, when the Artemis Joint Technology Initiative, a public-private partnership bringing together the European Commission, member states and industrial association Artemisia, announced plans to invest €22 million ($30.8 million U.S.) into the nonprofit. Identifying the Symbian platform as a technology vital to the growth of Euro-centric mobile software development, the Artemis JTI will fund the launch of the Symberose consortium: Short for "Symbian--the Embedded Operating System for Europe," the initiative will be led by the Symbian Foundation and brings together 24 organizations from eight European countries, spanning mobile device manufacturers, hardware and service integration service providers, consumer electronics companies, mobile network operators, application developers, universities and research institutions.

"Broadly speaking, the proposed advances to the Symbian platform will focus on radically improving the basis for new device creation on Symbian," writes Symbian Foundation technology manager Richard Collins on the organization's blog. "Additional work will concentrate on a set of core platform enablers that will support the types of mobile services that will be most prevalent in the near future." Collins adds the Symberose initiative will emphasize concepts like cloud computing and multi-core processing. "A further key development area to be addressed relates to future mobile platforms and embedded devices," Collins states. "New opportunities will arise from the principle that all mobile, Internet-connected devices share a number of common requirements on their underlying software system. The Symbian platform is in a strong position to benefit in this emerging world of embedded devices by supporting new types of hardware."

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