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Symbian channels iPhone love into Android scrap

Of rubber ducks and bar-room seduction

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Sure an iPhone could get you laid, but Symbian's biggest problem right now is its looming scrap with an Android.

Symbian's got market share - around 50 per cent global smart phone operating systems and huge presences outside the US - but that market share's been slipping in the past 12 months.

But in just two years, Apple iPhone's has notched up a 10 per cent market share, while its AppStore, which went from zero applications to 100,000 applications in just over a year. Oh, and it's sexy.

"It's the only phone I've ever heard said you can set in out on a bar next to you, and get laid," Symbian Foundation executive director Lee Williams said during a recent interview with The Reg.

But the power of the iPhone could be about to pass to Google's Android, whose market share is predicted to grow and overtake the iPhone. Currently ranking six in smart-phone operating systems, thanks largely to the fact its been offered by just one carrier in the US, the end of 2009 will see more handsets meaning - potentially - fast growth to number-two slot, according to Gartner.

Even if you don't buy into Gartner, then it's time to recall the advice of your mother: All good things can - and do - come to an end, meaning even the iPhone's growth will slow as people move on.

Where does this leave Symbian? Trying to siphon off iPhone developers while attacking Android "like a tiger", according to Williams.

As fellow travelers in open-source, the fight between Android and Symbian will be harder than if it were just, say, Windows Mobile versus Symbian, as both vie for differentiation.

Having officially open-sourced the Symbian kernel last month, the race is now on to sign up Taiwanese silicon manufacturers to increase the number of handsets and reflate Symbian's market share. The thinking is for general purpose and niche devices, with Williams hoping for a flood of uptake, as companies no longer need to haggle over licensing terms and price.

"What I hope will happen is this flood - a lot of these Taiwanese manufacturers will come in and grab it and contrite to it and port it in a lot of different ways," Williams said.

But they could do the same with Android, as Motorola has proven. Symbian's chief has taken the differentiation angle head on, claiming Android means a "perfect storm" of fragmentation for developers between different user interfaces, builds and applications, as OEMs and service providers get in on building their own Android systems.

Symbian, according to Williams, has learned its lessons of fragmentation. It'll be up to the community - handset makers, service providers and developers - to ensure there's no fragmentation, an approach Williams called the carrot instead of the stick. There will be compatibly tests, and APIs must work consistently at the file and application level. Members of the Symbian council stewarding the roadmap and development who depart from compatibly will lose their seat.

Crowd surfing features

Unlike Android, more people are calling the shots. Symbian's also inviting people to submit ideas on what they'd like to see in Symbian submitted to an exchange with the group mapping ideas to the roadmap

Williams is also talking of an 18-month roadmap. He provided no details, however, beyond plans to support Microsoft's Sliverlight, and Adobe's Flash and AIR in the future, plus UI "improvements" and support for the new version of the WebKit open-source browser engine.

When it comes to Android, Williams hopes to exploit what can be called at best "uncertainty" and at worst a closed system of applications and a closed roadmap controlled by Google. Williams pointed to the case of hacker Cyanogenmod who was ordered by the search and advertising giant's lawyers to stop shipping Google's closed-source applications with his CyanogenMOD Android build.

But for all the beating up on Google, it's clear that Apple still occupies Williams' thoughts. He knows Symbian needs to be as good as getting people laid in a bar as the iPhone. Kind of. "You have this great object of desire. This stuff draws developers," he said of the iPhone.

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