Symbian Foundation scales back as vendors lust after Android

Symbian Foundation scales back as vendors lust after AndroidIn чеa press briefing this morning, the Symbian Foundation announced plans to scale back and shed most of its staff. The organization will become a legal entity that is responsible for managing Symbian licensing. Nokia will take the central role in guiding the platform's technical direction, but aims to continue making the platform available under an "alternative open model."

The foundation was established after Nokia acquired Symbian in 2008 with the aim of opening the platform's source code. Nokia hoped to work collaboratively with other Symbian stakeholders to modernize the operating system and expand adoption. The platform has moved forward, but not swiftly enough to keep pace with more modern rivals. The platform's key hardware partners have all abandoned ship and moved to alternatives like Android, leaving Nokia as the last major Symbian smartphone maker.

The failure to retain Symbian hardware vendors (and attract new ones) has obviously forced the Symbian Foundation—which relies on funding from its hardware partners—to rethink its role. When the foundation's trash-talking executive director, Lee Williams, got the boot last month, speculation emerged that the foundation would soon be shuttered. This speculation appears to be partially realized in the transition that was announced this morning. Although the foundation will continue to exist, it will not have a meaningful role in Symbian development or strategy guidance—it will just hold the trademark and other key intellectual property.

Tim Holbrow, who was previously responsible for managing the foundation's operations and finances, was named as the new executive director and will be responsible for managing the organization's transition and reducing its 100-person staff. During the briefing this morning, he explained that the foundation's governance structure made sense when there was a diverse group of Symbian stakeholders, but it is no longer appropriate in light of the foundation's declining membership. He attributes the departure of prominent hardware vendors to a "seismic change in the mobile market," which, we suppose, is a euphemism for Android eating Symbian's lunch. He aims to complete the transition by the end of March.

Nokia's senior vice president of Symbian devices, Jo Harlow, gave us Nokia's perspective on the news. She contends that the Symbian platform will remain strong despite the move to scale down the foundation. Nokia is still committed to developing Symbian and will continue to invest in the platform as it has in the past. "The platform itself doesn't depend on the existence of the foundation," Harlow said.

It's not yet clear how Symbian licensing will be impacted by the change. Harlow says that the development model will likely be open in the sense that code will continue to be made available, but Nokia hasn't entirely decided how it wants to approach that from a licensing perspective. The foundation will not have a role in governance, however.

Harlow says that the foundation's reduced role will not lead to any changes in Nokia's platform strategy. The company remains committed to S30/S40, Symbian, and the Linux-based MeeGo platform. Nokia has been gradually ramping up support for MeeGo, which the company believes is better suited for taking on the high-end market, but has not yet announced a MeeGo-based device. It's possible that such an announcement could come next week at the first MeeGo Summit. Nokia's roadmap indicates that its first MeeGo-based product will likely be ready in 2011.

Source: ars technica

Tags: mobile phones, Nokia, Symbian

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