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Symbian puts another deck chair on the Titanic

iPhone and Android devs beckoned

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Symbian has taken a step forward in its strategy of trying to siphon off iPhone and Android developers.

The open-source organization has reached an agreement to integrate Nitobi's PhoneGap for building HTML, CSS and JavaScript applications with its Symbian^3 platform web extensions package for easier deployment on a range of handsets.

The idea is to simplify development of applications not just to different Symbian handsets, but also Apple’s iPhone and difference devices running Android.

PhoneGap works by wrapping web apps inside native code such as Object-C and Cocoa so developers don't necessarily need to learn details of the actual code.

Nitobi's framework allows web developers apps to access on-phone features such as camera, GPS, SQLite database, contacts and orientation.

PhoneGap targets Blackberry, Palm and Nokia’s Ovi in addition to Android and the iPhone. It’s the latter two, though, that have got the Symbian Foundation’s interest.

Foundation executive director Lee Williams told The Reg late last year he hoped to siphon off iPhone developers as the platform begins to lose its charm thanks to its lack of openness, while attacking fellow open-sourcer Android “like a tiger”.

Williams hoped to woo developers based on Symbian’s open kernel - officially open sourced by Nokia in October 2009 – and Symbian’s 50 per cent of the global smartphone market.

In a statement commenting on the PhoneGap news, announced at the O'Reilly Open-Source Convention in Portland, Oregon, Williams said: "Our web tools allow developers on other platforms to quickly build rich internet-based apps for Symbian."

So, clearly, the strategy from 2009 is still in place.

It’s just that things have gotten a little tighter for Symbian. Since last November, Apple’s been holding steady on a quarter of the US smartphone market.

And while Williams was right to predict Android is his next big target, there’s little sign Symbian has done, or can do, anything to drain its growing popularity or even ride its back by having developers build for both.

Google’s OS now runs on 13 per cent of US smart phones – up from 1.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2009 - and is challenging Microsoft’s for the number-three spot.

Symbian's ace in the hole of market share is not just slipping away. The pace at which Symbian is losing ground on devices is accelerating according to Gartner figures due at the end of this month.

Also going against Symbian among developers are an unappealing interface and cumbersome tools. These are factors that really make the developers’ job more difficult and come in to play when picking a platform.

All of which means PhoneGap could just be one more well placed deck chair on the Titanic. ®

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