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9/11/2008
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Symbian Foundation Talks Of Mobile OS Fragmentation

Google's Android, Apple iPhone, RIM's Blackberry, and other mobile operating systems may fragment the market, but Symbian Foundation members say developers have incentives to make apps work across multiple operating systems.

As the number of mobile operating systems increase, will fragmentation become a major issue for customers and developers?

Multiple expert members of the Symbian Foundation addressed this question and more during a roundtable discussion Wednesday at the CTIA conference in San Francisco.

The Symbian Foundation was formed in June with the intent of creating a royalty-free, open-source operating system based on S60, DoCoMo MOAP, and UIQ platforms. Some of the founding members include AT&T, Nokia, Motorola, and Texas Instruments.

While the goal of the foundation is to make Symbian as ubiquitous as possible, experts said fragmentation of the market will be unavoidable.

It's facing competition in the "open" arena from Linux-based offerings from Google's Android and the LiMo Foundation, not to mention established players like Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Apple's OS for iPhone, and the BlackBerry OS.

Because of the diversity in hardware, there will never be one unified language, said Oren Levine, product market manager in Nokia's S60 group. But Levine thinks developers will have significant incentive to make their applications work on multiple platforms due to the size of the overall mobile market.

Christy Wyatt, Motorola's VP of software platforms and ecosystems, agreed with Levine, and pointed to the iPhone as an example. While it holds a small percentage of the overall handset market, the success of Apple's App Store provides a strong financial allure for developers.

Additionally, Wyatt said she expects to see a "sharp contraction" in the number of mobile platforms in the future, including one consistent version of mobile Linux.

An open Symbian platform could foster an active, innovative developer community, but constantly moving the goal posts can lead to some instability. David Wood, Symbian's executive VP for research, said these issues can be addressed with strong leadership.

"When we've done a good job, there's very little need for people to do their own thing," Wood said.

But for the end user, the operating system may take a backseat to the feature set of the handset, AT&T's Roger Smith said.

"The vast majority of our 72 million customers used to buy based on form factor, but more and more, they're concerned with what the device can do," said Smith, AT&T's director of next generation services. "It's still rare for a customer to come in and demand a phone based on operating system."

This trend is slowly changing, Smith said, and the "mobile DNA" behind the Symbian Foundation is a major reason why AT&T became a member even though it only offers a handful of Symbian devices.

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