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Nokia plays catch-up with Apple

Posted: 04 May 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Symbian? Nokia app store? Apple? open-source?

As they battle for developers' mindshare in the mobile handset space, Nokia Corp. and Symbian Foundation find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone vendor, is forced to play catch-up with Apple. At a Nokia Developer Summit, Nokia spokespeople dwelled almost exclusively on the company's new service and app store called Ovi. Although the handset giant has talked of the concept of Ovi for the last two years, it's not until this month that Nokia is finally launching Ovi Store.

Apple, which wasn't even in the mobile phone business until 2007, clearly caught the mobile industry off guard with its very successful App Store.

Never mind that iPhone operates on a closed platform, and disregard Apple's plans to claim up to 30 percent of their developers' potential revenue. Application developers appear still eager to develop cool software for iPhone.

Meanwhile, Symbian Foundationacquired by Nokia last year, and now a non-profit organizationfaces growing competition from Google's Android. Android, built around Linux, is leading the mobile industry's future by leveraging its free, open-source community.

Symbian, too, is aiming for the open-source community. But "this open source thing is really hard," acknowledged Lee Williams, executive director of Symbian Foundation during the interview at the Summit last week.

Unlike Android which is a "green-field" effort using fresh codes, Williams said that Symbian has to do a lot of "scrubbing of its existing codes" before the Symbian Foundation can completely hand off its software to open-source developers.

First, Symbian needs to untangle copyrights and intellectual property rights to a massive collection of third-party commercial softwareoriginally gathered and implemented by Symbian when it was a for-profit commercial entity, he explained.

Openness matters
Looking at the spectrum of mobile apps today, one may wonder if "an open platform" really matters to mobile phone application developers.

Symbian, clearly, believes in the open-source community. Nokia, too, hopes to demonstrate at its Summit that openness still matters.

But a closer examination shows that there are subtle differences in the approaches taken by Symbian and Nokia.

Moreover, the Finnish giant, by pursing a two-pronged strategy, may be trying to have it both ways. It's championing "open" philosophy, while fostering software "unique to Nokia."

First, Symbian OS is indeed going open-source. The company made that decision almost a year ago. That commitment alone, however, doesn't help Nokia much right now. It won't be until late this year, at the earliest, when Symbian Foundation completes that transition and can truly take advantage of collective efforts in the open-source community.

Second, in parallel, Nokia is making aggressive efforts in exposing its own platform "to its highest level," according to Rob Taylor, the head of Forum Nokia. "We want developers to create apps that distinguish our device," he added.

Nokia's plan here is "being open," but only to the advantage of its own platform and for its advancement.

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