Nokia wants to buy the 52% of the Symbian operating system that it doesn’t already own to open source it and set it free.
It’s a defense
against advances into the fragmented mobile space that Nokia and Symbian
dominate – particularly – from the looks of case – against Google’s nascent
open source Android initiative and the freebie Linux-based LiMo Foundation – but
then there’s also Apple’s proprietary iPhone, Microsoft’s equally proprietary, royalty-charging
Windows Mobile and the ever-present Blackberry and Palm.
Nokia is offering
$410 million cash (264 million euros or $5.40 a share) for control of the 10-year-old
UK-based Symbian Ltd.
It says it has
already struck deals with Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB,
Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, Panasonic Mobile Communications Company Ltd
and Siemens International Holdings BV.
That gives it 91%
and only leaves Samsung Electronics. Nokia figures Samsung will come around. It
expects to complete the acquisition in Q4.
Nokia then intends
to set up a non-profit Symbian Foundation to unite the three Symbian interface
strains – Nokia’s own S60, DoCoMo’s MOAP for the 3G network and the Sony
Ericsson/Moto UIQ and its Apple-like touch screen widgetry – into a single
operating system with a common UI framework, which it will make available to
foundation members under a royalty-free license.
Motorola Samsung and Sony Ericsson – the four largest handset makers after
Nokia – as well as AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, STMicroelectronics, TI and Vodafone
are already in.
Nokia said it would
take two years to open source the operating system under the Eclipse Public
License (EPL) 1.0 with components coming out in dribs and drabs, a timeframe
that could easily undercut its effort.
It said the object
of the game was to “establish the most complete mobile software offering
available in open source,” which must mean that Google’s Linux-based open
source collective and Apple’s vision have it worried enough to launch a
Nokia calls the
foundation – which should start functioning in the first half of next year –
“one of the biggest contributions to an open community ever made.”
supposed to differentiate at the device level and the Symbian Foundation is
supposed to simplify the platform and thereby unleash more innovation.
The only comparable
efforts are Google and its Open Handset Alliance, which according to last
report won’t have a phone out until Q4 at best – and a struggle at that – and
the LiMo Foundation.
There are some 200
million Symbian phones out there now, representing 60% of the smartphone market
(6% or 7% of all handsets), and by Nokia’s count tens of thousands of
third-party applications, however impotent.
It appears to be very
much a race of who collects the most ingenious multimedia applications the
Symbian and its thousand developers will become Nokia employees once the deal is done and Nokia will save something like $250 million a year in royalties that it pays Symbian.