Symbian vs Android: How they square up

ZDNet.co.uk looks at how the Symbian Foundation and Open Handset Alliance measure up in terms of membership, licensing and projected time to market
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

With the announcement on Tuesday of the formation of the Symbian Foundation, the forces of mobile open source appear to be congregating into two major camps: the Symbian Foundation and the Open Handset Alliance, which is developing Google's Android, a rival mobile platform.

Below we compare the membership, licensing and timescales of both the Symbian Foundation (SF) and the Open Handset Alliance (OHA).

What are the two organisations' aims?

SF: While Nokia currently owns the majority of shares in Symbian, 48 percent, the handset giant has pledged to open source Symbian software. Subject to the approval by competition authorities of Nokia's purchase of the remainder of Symbian's shares, the foundation said it would be up and running by 2009. Nokia will develop the Symbian platform through the SF conglomerate of organisations.

OHA: OHA announced late last year that it would develop the Android platform. Android, originally a start-up mobile-phone-software company, was purchased by Google in 2005. Google announced that it would open source Android under the aegis of OHA. Currently developing the Android platform, OHA is comprised of mobile operators, semiconductor companies, handset manufacturers, software companies and commercialisation companies.

Some companies have given intellectual property to OHA that will be released under the open-source Apache License version 2. Some are making sure their chipsets support the platform. Handset manufacturers and mobile operators are working to develop handsets based on the platform, while commercialisation partners are working on Android services models, as well as developing some of the Android software.


SF: The member companies of SF will be: AT&T, Broadcom, Digia, EA Mobile, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Freescale, LG, Motorola, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Symbian, T-Mobile, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Plusmo, Teleca, Texas Instruments, Vodafone, Wipro and STMicroelectronics.

OHA: OHA has a larger membership than SF. The mobile operators in OHA are: China Mobile Communications Corporation, KDDI Corporation, NTT DoCoMo, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Telecom Italia/Telefonica.

Semiconductor companies involved in OHA are: Audience, Broadcom, Intel, Marvell Semiconductor, Nvidia Corporation, Qualcomm, SiRF Technology, Synaptics and Texas Instruments.

The handset manufacturers in OHA are: HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung.

The software companies involved in OHA are: Ascender, eBay, Esmertec, Google, LivingImage, LiveWire Mobile, Nuance Communications, PacketVideo, SkyPop and Sonivox.

The commercialisation companies in OHA are: Aplix, Noser, The Astonishing Tribe and Wind River.

Crossover: Some organisations have decided to develop on both platforms, and so have membership of both organisations. Companies that have membership of both OHA and SF are: LG, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, Samsung, T-Mobile and Texas Instruments.


While SF will use the Eclipse Public License version 1.0, OHA will use the Apache License version 2.0.

The Eclipse licensing agreement will enable developers and organisations to build on Symbian source code and distribute that code. Software patents can be applied for and enforced under the licensing agreement. Under the agreement, organisations accept liability for any infringement of patents that may occur in the code under their control.

In contrast, the Apache licensing agreement is less tolerant of software patents. Signatories of Apache version 2.0 agree to exceptions to the irrevocable nature of software patents granted under the licence.

Apart from that major difference, Apache allows developers and organisations to build on Android source code and distribute that code, so long as any code modifications are clearly attributed, in a similar way to Eclipse.


SF: According to Alain Mutricy, senior vice president of Motorola, SF will launch in the first half of 2009. "We expect to launch the Symbian Foundation with all assets made available to members," he said. The first complete SF release can be expected during 2010, including handsets and software. Devices up to this point will continue to be developed using Symbian, Series 60 and UIQ, available from the foundation royalty-free.

The reason that SF is expected to take shape in early 2009 is that Nokia's intended full acquisition of Symbian will come about in the fourth quarter of this year — a development that is subject to regulatory approval.

According to Kai Öistämö, Nokia's head of devices, the first handsets bearing the new platform will appear in 2010, around the same time that the platform is fully open-sourced.

OHA: This timeline puts SF somewhat behind OHA. T-Mobile has repeatedly promised that Android-powered handsets will be available by the end of 2008. In February, T-Mobile chief executive Hamid Akhavan said the company plans to ship an Android phone late in 2008. T-Mobile confirmed at the beginning of June that its Android-based phone is still on track to arrive in the fourth quarter.

Android software overseen by Google will appear in the first Android phones, but Android software overseen by partner Wind River will appear in later models, expected in the first quarter of 2009.

The battle royale

Subject to regulatory approval of Nokia's plans to acquire Symbian, the battle between SF and OHA could shape up to be the biggest mobile prizefight of the next decade. Any battle that pits the world's largest mobile manufacturer against the world's most powerful search company should have interesting repercussions.

ZDNet.co.uk's Matt Loney and David Meyer, and CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland, contributed to this article.

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