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7/25/2008
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Android-Symbian Merger: Officials Weigh In

Despite predictions by analysis firm J. Gold Associates, officials with Symbian, Nokia, and Google aren't positive the union would work right now.

Just because a business union makes sense doesn't mean it will actually happen.

That seems to be the case, for now, for the prospect of a merger or partnership between Android, the mobile-device operating system from Google, and Symbian, the world-leading mobile OS soon to be wholly owned by Nokia, the world's No. 1 seller of handsets. Officials from Symbian, Nokia, and Google all dismissed the prediction -- contained most recently in a report released yesterday by mobile analysis firm J. Gold Associates -- as pure speculation.

Dismissing it as a "rumor," a Nokia spokesperson declined to comment on the report. Symbian officials were unavailable but have dismissed such talk in private.

"We don't comment on market rumors or speculations," said a Google spokesperson.

Last month Nokia said it will purchase the remaining portion of Symbian that it doesn't already own and make it available free of charge to members of the Symbian foundation. Already a 48% stakeholder in Symbian, Nokia is buying out the company's remaining shares from its telecom partners for $410 million and placing the Symbian OS -- the world's most widely used mobile operating system -- into the hands of the open source movement under the royalty-free Eclipse Public License.

Though its market share in the United States is slim, Symbian is used in about 66% of the smartphones in use today, including several leading enterprise models from Nokia. Along with the advent of the iPhone from Apple and its associated software development kit, the opening up of the Symbian platform is sure to have a disruptive effect on the mobile handset market. The move has put particular pressure on Google, which is trying to carve out a portion of the mobile market and establish an open platform for its applications and the ads that accompany them.

"Symbian will match Android on zero-dollar pricing, and this diminishes one of its major competitive advantages," said Bonny Joy of Strategy Analytics.

At the OSCON open source software convention earlier this week, Symbian VP of strategy John M. Forsyth explained the company's thinking on the open source strategy and described Nokia's plans for moving the platform forward. He did not mention a possible partnership with another OS.

After months of speculation about a "gPhone," Google in November announced Android, a mobile operating system designed to be fully open to third-party developers and applications. The search company also formed an industry consortium known as the Open Handset Alliance to bring innovative new mobile devices to market faster and cheaper. Now, with Symbian headed toward open source status, the rationale for massive investment in producing handsets that run Android is not so evident. Many observers have said that a Google-Symbian partnership would make a formidable combination; and analyst Jack Gold last week predicted that the merger of the two mobile operating systems will begin within three to six months.

"A combination of the Android and Symbian efforts would be good for the industry, good for Google and good for Symbian," J. Gold said. "It would also help spur a growth in the availability of applications and services. The downside is minimal. Everyone wins."

That may be, but at this point the companies are denying any talks about combining their efforts -- and other analysts are equally skeptical.

"There is no substantive basis to this," said mobile analyst Carmi Levy, senior VP for strategic consulting at AR Communications. "Nokia was quite adamant last November when it first shrugged off suggestions of a possible merger with Android."

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