Nokia Sets Symbian Free: The Google Effect

Dianne See Morrison
Tuesday, June 24, 2008; 10:00 AM

So Nokia is setting Symbian free.

On the practical side of things, Nokia was expected to buy out its partners at some point, since as the largest maker of Symbian smartphones, the handset maker pays its partners more in licensing fees that it receives. But the move, of course, is widely being seen as the Finnish handset maker's response to Google's mobile platform Android and to a lesser extent, Apple's iPhone.

It's never been the style of Nokia execs to chest beat, brag, or slam the competition. But Google and the fanfare it caused with the announcement of Android and its Open Handset Alliance?of which Nokia is most conspicuously not a member--has no doubt been irritating. When asked about the search giant's open source mobile platform and its prediction that it would usher in a host of new applications and new experiences, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo sniffed, "We've seen an announcement. Conceptually, we could have made that announcement a long time ago."

But while Nokia has been working away at transforming its company from a hardware maker to a new style entertainment provider, its still very early days for its applications?such as its gaming offering nGage, its music store, and its mapping service Nokia Maps. Some like its Comes With Music service have yet to launch. The offering, so, far isn't exactly overwhelming, nor is it earth-shatteringly innovative. It's also been relatively expensive to build.

Nokia's seen the light with "open networks" and the advantages of letting a developer community help create applications for their handsets. As the company's head of devices Kai Oistamo told Reuters, making Symbian royalty-free would allow it to "innovate faster, on a bigger, united, more widely accepted platform," which in turn would let the company "deliver new products?faster to the market."

At Nokia's press conference, it emerged that the decision to form a foundation and to set the platform royalty-free came about in a month's time?quite impressive speed when you consider the number of players involved, and testament to how much fear Google has inspired in the market. With reports that Android is experiencing delays surfacing just yesterday, Nokia may have literally bought itself a bit more time to prepare against the upstart.

So who's the biggest loser in all this? Potentially, Microsoft which has been trying to break into the consumer mobile market. Microsoft, of course, has its own mobile OS, Windows Mobile, which costs $8 to $15 to license per phone. The platform has about a 13 percent share of the smartphone market, but with Symbian going free, it's definitely under pressure.

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