Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Symbian Goes Open

Oh goodie! Another mobile platform is going open source! Now there will be TOTAL fragmentation and a sea of incompatible devices for everyone. Yeah!

Nokia is going to buy out the remaining shares in Symbian that is doesn't already own for $410 million and is planning on contributing Symbian and it's S60 (Series 60) platform to the newly formed "Symbian Foundation."

It seems that they'll also have the backing of Sony Ericsson, AT&T, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, Vodafone, Motorola and NTT DoCoMo to various parts of this new(ish) platform.

That's some pretty heavy hitters.

Still, Nokia has announced a two-year timeframe before everything is out in the open - and now that the Google Mobile OS - Android - has been stalled for at least the next 1-3 quarters - the mobile wars are heating up. That's both good news and potentially really, really, really crappy news - depending on your point of view.

On the good news side - the investment and opening of the mobile OS systems is a really good thing. There is the potential for some really innovative stuff to come out in the mobile space - and even average-joe coders can get in on the action and make a difference.

On the oh-my-gosh-are-you-kidding-me side of the coin - NO ONE needs yet another mobile OS! Seriously, people - stop with PR b.s. and get some deliverable code before you start shouting it from the rooftops.

I mean, let's take a look at the cloudy mess we have already:
  • Apple - closed OS - but with an SDK you can only program on a Mac
  • RIM - closed OS - also with an SDK you can only program on Windows
  • Microsoft - closed OS with an SDK you can only program on Windows
  • Google - vaporware completely open OS that is now "officially" delayed - based on Linux
  • Symbian - long-in-the-tooth OS that is going to be open over the next couple of years
So - where does that leave developers? I mean, really - are you going to write 5 versions of your application in completely different SDKs with 5 completely different operating systems and dependencies?

That doesn't include all the forking of the Android and Symbian projects (once they get out of the gate). At teh end of the day - what will the people that buy the phones go for? Whomever stakes out the platform (and handset and service and reliability and usefulness) that's the most popular will, at the end of the day, win.

There is certainly room in the world for 5 operating systems in terms of vertical devices and other specialty applications - but in the mass market - unless there are some really compelling advances - people are going to choose cool and sexy over features.

That means - Apple will probably win. They will continue to innovate and be copied by everyone else... unless there are some creative people who don't want to use the Apple Store to distribute their apps - and know Linux (or Symbian) and have a passion to put out really kick-ass apps.

Personally, I'm waiting for July 11th - just like everyone else...

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