Nokia Takes Back the Reins of Symbian

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With more and more partners jumping ship from the Symbian Foundation, Nokia announced today it was taking back the reins of the Symbian platform as the foundation evolves into a licensing organization. The Symbian Foundation, which Nokia  created in 2008 after buying Symbian, announced it was winding down operations and would slash 100 jobs as it moves to license the open source Symbian software and other intellectual property. The move by the foundation underscores the slowing momentum for the platform. But the transition also reaffirms Nokia’s commitment to Symbian as a workhorse for future phones. Essentially, Nokia can now push and develop Symbian much the way Google leads Android.

Nokia’s Jo Harlow, senior vice president of smartphones, said Nokia will continue to develop and evolve Symbian because it’s the best platform to serve its global audience. He said Nokia is focusing on its Qt development framework, which will enable developers to write for both Symbian and the upcoming MeeGo platform. Qt will be a key area for Nokia, to convince developers that it makes sense to write for Symbian and eventually MeeGo.

While Nokia Symbian remains the top-selling smartphone OS in the world, the growth of  Android prompted Symbian Foundation partners Sony Ericsson and Samsung to jump ship recently following the lead of Motorola. Most recently, foundation director Lee Williams stepped down, casting further doubt on the foundation. Meanwhile, sales of Symbian-based smartphones have been steadily losing market share. Canalys reported that Symbian’s share of the smartphone market slipped from 50.3 percent in the second quarter of 2009 to 43.5 percent in the same quarter this year.

Nokia reasserting itself as the leader of Symbian isn’t a big surprise. Nokia has reaffirmed its support of Symbian and scoffed at suggestions that it should embrace Android, comparing such a move to peeing in your pants to stay warm. New CEO Stephen Elop last month said he would cut 1,800 jobs and revised the company’s Symbian strategy. Nokia seems set on making Symbian work, although as Kevin points out, Symbian^3 running on the new N8 shows it still has a ways to go. With MeeGo not due out until sometime next year, and slated for more high-end devices, Symbian is still the mainstay for Nokia. Taking control of the platform will help streamline its development, but with developers more enamored of iOS and Android and cheaper Android phones eating into Nokia smartphone sales overseas, Nokia has to show that it can do more than re-assume control. It has to show it can execute and do it fast.

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