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Symbian aims to baffle embrace community

Once more unto the ideamagoria my friends

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Symbian has marked its annual shindig by once more launching its application warehouse, and looking to the wisdom of the crowds to tell it what its future plans should be.

Lee Williams, Executive Director of the Symbian Foundation, has been making waves recently asserting that Android is just a beginner and Apple is technically backward. These themes have been repeated during the Symbian Exchange & Exposition (SEE) this week, where Symbian has again launched its application warehouse and continues to try and create a community-based platform.

The Symbian Foundation is still struggling to understand what it's supposed to be doing, evidenced by a keynote presentation from Williams which focused on "ideamagoria"s and "the age of conversations", tarted up with "mocked up mash ups" and followed by a presentation from Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales about how marvellous he is.

The point of all this is that Symbian needs help, and not just writing code. The Foundation is looking for help in terms of direction, features and funding, and has launched a new site on which anyone can post an opinion about just what the Symbian Foundation should be doing, the value of that opinion then being established by popular vote in the best Web 2.0 tradition.

Horizon, the Symbian Foundation's application warehouse, would also like a business model if anyone has one handy. Application stores generally take a cut of the sale price, but Horizon provides apps for stores and won't deal with customers, developers used to pay to have their applications Symbian Signed, but that limits the market, so Horizon is hoping the wisdom of the crowds will come up with something better.

Until then Horizon will only be open to applications that have already been Symbian Signed, which won't be asked to pay but will become available to those application stores already signed up to Horizon. That includes Nokia's Ovi, Samsung's App Store and AT&T's MEdia Mall with China Mobile and Sony Ericsson about to come online too.

The central-repository concept is valid: application stores should then be able to differentiate by type of app, such as just having games, or business applications, rather than the Tesco Extra approach currently being adopted by the industry. But Horizon is going to have to find a way of making it pay, if only to cover the running costs.

Early suggestions, embodied in a physical version of the ideas website put up at the show, don't bode well: the ideas posted range from the already-existing* ("a remote screen over Bluetooth") to the optimistic ("I'd like my phone to cure my hangover") to the frankly sad ("I want my phone to have a personality & feel like a friend").

Symbian is trying hard to create a community feel, and crowd-sourcing is a nice idea. However, chasing the Web 2.0 trend might not be the best way to remind people that not only is Symbian a decent platform but it's also still the dominant smartphone platform by an order of magnitude. The iPhone might be more sexy, and Android cooler, but device numbers still favour Symbian, for the moment at least. ®

* The RedFly does this, but that's Windows Mobile only, so perhaps the idea is valid.

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