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Symbian to set up app developer programme

The Horizon programme will help selected developers write apps for the Symbian platform and distribute them in app stores compatible with Symbian-based handsets
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

The Symbian Foundation plans to release an application publishing programme, called Horizon, to help developers write for the upcoming open-source mobile platform.

Under the programme, announced on Thursday, the industry alliance will assist developers in building applications for any Symbian OS-based handset. It will also help them to place their products in existing mobile app stores for the devices, rather than setting up an app store of its own.

"Our goal is to encourage robust application development, increase revenue and application diversity in mobile stores, and improve the consumer experience — all for the greater benefit of the mobile ecosystem," Symbian Foundation chief executive Lee Williams said in a statement.

In addition to organising the distribution of the applications, the foundation will provide application certification, language translation services and marketing programmes.

Symbian Horizon will launch in October, and interested developers can register on the foundation's website. The group will select which applications to incubate and developers to support in the Horizon programme.

Submitted applications will be judged according to how innovative they are and how well they "demonstrate the power of the Symbian platform", not on their content, Shaun Puckrin, the foundation's head of community support, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday.

App stores supporting the programme include Nokia's Ovi Store — Nokia owns the Symbian technology — the Samsung Application Store and AT&T's Media Mall.

A number of companies have signed up to use Horizon to create new Symbian applications, including The Guardian, National Public Radio in the US, Ustream, Wine.com, Skout, MobileIron and Dynatech.

The Horizon programme is part of the Symbian Foundation's strategy to retain the many developers that already create applications for the platform and to attract more. Last year, when Nokia bought the parts of the Symbian technology it did not already own, the foundation announced it would turn the technology into an open-source platform.

It released some open-source security code earlier this month, but the entire process of opening up the platform is not expected to be completed until sometime next year.

"It's an evolving story, and one that requires each package to be looked at and analysed," Puckrin said. "We're really keen to get the kernel of the Symbian operating system open-sourced as soon as possible — within three months."

Puckrin refused to specify when in 2010 the open-sourcing of Symbian will be finished, arguing that, unlike rival smartphone platforms, "we are not going to dictate to our community how that should happen".

Asked whether Symbian could lose developer interest due to its uncertain timescale and stiff competition from the likes of Android and the iPhone, Puckrin pointed out that Symbian is "still by far and away the biggest opportunity for developers to get to market", as the platform is used in just under 50 percent of all smartphones today.

However, the question of compatibility between existing Symbian applications and the future, open-source Symbian platform remains unresolved.

"There is a current debate we're having with our community," Puckrin said. "The intention is to migrate to a user interface based around Qt, and there is a debate going on in our forums about how we maintain compatibility with our existing applications."

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