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Symbian maps out mighty app hangar

Painting it yellow, in its own sweet time

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The Symbian Foundation threw open the doors of its application warehouse this week, declaring it will be "unique".

The "Day 1" announcements from the Foundation weren't limited to a childish logo and rebranding - there is some meat to the plans. The Foundation is taking a new approach to distribution that will see it fulfilling the role of application warehouse; supplying multiple stores run by anyone who wants to have a go.

With only four per cent of the code packages currently opened, Symbian has a long way to go if it's going to be fully open source by June next year. However, with the Foundation only having 200 employees (compared to Symbian's 2000), much of that work will done by "the community" - or Nokia as it's sometimes known - who will apparently be drawn to the new yellow branding.

Meanwhile the Foundation has been putting together the app warehouse plans, offering standard APIs with which third parties can interact to run their own stores containing a subset of what's available.

Symbian applications (in common with most mobile apps these days) have to be signed, and the question of who signs applications is one of the most divisive in the industry: if a platform is locked down to signed apps only, then the organisation that signs them controls the platform.

Network operators can't sign apps if users are going to take handsets between operators, as demanded by legislation in many places; but handing over power to the manufacturers is unpopular, and arguably limiting, even if Apple has got away with it and Palm plans to.

Unlocked platforms, such as Windows Mobile and Android, can run unsigned applications, but that puts them at a (largely theoretical) risk of viruses and Trojans.

The Symbian Foundation reckons it has a third way - the Foundation will sign applications, or (more accurately) license third-parties to do so, and will then run a repository containing the plethora of apps but not available to the general public and with no intention of making any money. An application store then decides on the kind of apps they want to list - perhaps specialising in those that make farting noises or similar - and creates a front end and payment system for those apps, along with links to the repository for downloading.

The Foundation takes enough to cover costs, but no more, while the deal between the store and application publisher is up for negotiation. In this way manufacturers, network operators and fourth parties can happily differentiate their offerings while avoiding the replication which is currently necessary.

Of course, the success of such a repository relies on a huge range of applications - enough to push users into selecting a store based on its ability to provide for their needs. But the approach could address the problem of quality applications disappearing under the plethora of mediocre-to-appalling apps that currently clog up the more popular stores. ®

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