Open source Symbian handsets expected in 2010

Nokia plans to acquire the rest of Symbian, open source the mobile operating system and launch its first handsets in two years.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Nokia plans to acquire the rest of Symbian, open source the mobile operating system and launch its first handsets in two years.

On Tuesday, Nokia announced that it intends to buy out all the shares in Symbian that it does not already own, costing the handset giant around 264 million euros, or US$410 million.

It also will set up the Symbian Foundation, with a multitude of other manufacturers and operators, combining Symbian, Series 60 (S60), UIQ, and MOAP technologies into one unified platform, which will be fully open-sourced within two years.

The move is a strike against Google and its Android platform — and is also likely to have an impact on the growing mobile Linux community.

The Symbian Foundation itself will take shape in early 2009, after Nokia's intended full acquisition of Symbian in the fourth quarter of this year — a development that is subject to regulatory approval. Tuesday's announcement came on the 10-year anniversary of Symbian's birth.

According to Kai Ã-istämö, Nokia's head of devices, the first handsets bearing the new platform will appear in 2010, around the same time that the platform has been fully open-sourced. This timeline puts the foundation somewhat behind the Open Handset Alliance, which is the industry group that Google set up to develop Android.

The OHA has promised handsets by the end of this year, although a recent Wall Street Journal article suggested that such devices might not appear till 2009.

However, Ã-istämö — who was speaking at a London press conference on Tuesday morning — was keen to point out that applications created today for the Nokia S60 platform would be work with the final Symbian Foundation platform.

"From a developer perspective, everything is available today," he said, while conceding that the exact timeline for the release of handsets was subject to "shades of grey."

"The first S60 elements will be available for all Foundation members from the get-go in early 2009," said Ã-istämö. "The final piece of the integrated code, where we have integrated all the elements, will be available in two years' time. All development done on Symbian version 9 and S60 3rd edition will be forward-compatible into the Symbian Foundation releases. For application developers, you can start developing today for this new platform and be sure that your investments will be maintained."

Mats Lindoff, the chief technology officer of Sony Ericsson — the main owner of Symbian-based UIQ and a member of the Symbian Foundation — said the formation of the foundation had been "discussed in the Symbian board for some time," but declined to give a date for the origin of such talks.

Motorola also uses UIQ user interface technology. Its head of platform technology, Alain Mutricy, said at the press conference that Motorola would continue to use UIQ during the forthcoming transitional period.

"There will be UIQ-based products in 2009," he confirmed, adding that Motorola was in discussion with Sony Ericsson and the UIQ management team regarding the restructuring and repositioning of UIQ "in the new ecosystem."

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