On Feb. 4, the Symbian Foundation announced that the world's most widely used smartphone platform was being made available as a free, open-source offering. So how does it differ from alternatives in the marketplace?
First, it differs in focus and completeness.
From its very early days, the Symbian software code base has been created as an answer to the demands of mobile technologies. Software does best precisely what it was designed to do.
The platform's collection of code runs on more than 330 million devices and counting; exists in tens of different form factors; supports more than 50 languages; and can be accepted on hundreds of operator networks globally, primarily because it supports a broad collection of hardware, including display sizes and chip sets.
As such, it provides a consistent way of meeting the requirements of all links in the mobile supply chain. Further, the highly modular architecture runs on less-power-intensive application processors and runs more efficiently than any other software yet developed in this space.
Second, the platform is truly open for business.
It is one thing to make your code available for others to see, but Symbian takes openness into new territory, letting other companies and individuals directly participate in the decisions that evolve the software, and assisting in ways that contribute to the development and maintenance of the code base.
Because Symbian is not controlled by a single entity, a vibrant meritocracy exists; any of a large number of companies can get transparent access to code and leverage business practices to maintain and extend the platform. I am not aware of another offering that lets third-party companies and individuals see, let along define and contribute to, a road map of future capabilities, in quite the same way.
Third, we offer a sustainable business practice and ecosystem, and we have a not-for-profit motive.
If companies like Google get their next billion ad impressions over mobile, then where is the incentive to ensure that any other company in the supply chain is successful or sees a return on its investment?
Symbian has established the largest global addressable market opportunity for businesses and is effectively leveling the playing field for individuals to exploit this opportunity. Businesses from across the mobile supply chain can benefit from their investments in the ecosystem.
Because of the moves made to open-source and freely distribute the code, to unify and not further fragment the platform, and to shepherd the asset base with a not-for-profit entity, every company can participate in the ecosystem comfortably. This happens with the full knowledge that Symbian and third-party company strategies and efforts can always remain aligned.
The marketplace has embraced the open call to contribute ideas that guide the future of the Symbian platform.
We are seeing an increase in the number of technology providers that adapt to and embrace the platform, especially in Asia. There is a growing base of innovative developers who have been pleasantly surprised at the profits they have earned from their applications.
More device manufacturers and operators are getting comfortable with the ability to provide Symbian consumers with applications and service extensions. Companies have been pleased at how transparent and participatory the governance model really is, and have taken up roles in key aspects of platform governance that will help their businesses. Consumers will benefit from this model well into the future.
Lee Williams is executive director of the Symbian Foundation.