Symbian channels iPhone love into Android scrap
Of rubber ducks and bar-room seduction
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.
iPhone bubble bursting
Williams thinks - or hopes - the iPhone and AppStore bubble has burst for developers. In particular, Williams reckoned the AppStore's become harder to navigate while Apple's application policy is as arbitrary as ever, all of which leads Williams to hope that developers will finally rebel against paying Apple 30 per cent of their applications revenue - or, "taxation without representation."
He looks forward to a mythical group of four developers in a garage somewhere building their own, better AppStore and offering it through Horizon on a variety of form phones. Horizon is the application warehouse and developer program from Symbian still looking for a business model.
"Apple will remain a very strong segment player and will once again lead with useful ideas - it shipped the first display only phone, never mind touch. But that is not the mass appeal mobile market place, and most developers want to access that mass market place," Williams said.
But how to excite developers who still remain very much in awe of the iPhone? Symbian has all the excitement of Windows Mobile, something Microsoft's even recognized now needs a make over to attract developers and more consumers.
Williams promised more rubber-duck style antics to poach iPhone developers and promote meet ups that raise awareness about his group's mobile operating system, and the ecosystem of handset makes and devices using it. The ecosystem consists of OEMs, service providers and some 70 handset form factors serving a range of international markets and - dare we say it - phones more affordable than the iPhone.
Such are the tactics Symbian must employ to galvanize a mobile development community that's been won over by Apple's iPhone and is already starting to exhibit the same kinds of early interest in Google's Android that helped established the iPhone.
Telco talking shop
Symbian might have OEM and telco buy in from Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and Nokia plus AT&T, Vodafone, NTT DOCOMO and silicon providers like Texas Instruments, but this looks like a classic telco consortium of old. They still need the apps, and the apps come from the developers - individuals who aren't members and who still like the iPhone and are tempted by Android.
The shine will wear off Apple while stage is now set for Google. Unlike Apple, Google doesn't control the hardware - a plus for Symbian - but it's open-source, which puts them on a level playing field.
Williams admitted we're all in "wait and see mode" to see how the Google fragmentation story plays out and whether developers or just Google makes any money from Android.
While the jury remains out Symbian must move fast and line up not just a small army of Taiwanese silicon makers around its open-sourced kernel but also developers against its rival. ®