Should Sony Ericsson Make UIQ Open Source?

Sony Ericsson last month at 3GSM in Barcelona <a href=";jsessionid=5JYTFADUOCDSIQSNDLOSKH0CJUNN2JVN">said it was looking for partners for its <a href="">UIQ</a> platform</a>, which it acquired several months earlier. The move was designed to help Sony Ericsson grow UIQ beyond just the confines of its own handset ecosystem and to challenge Nokia's <a href="">S60</a> platform. So

Stephen Wellman, Contributor

March 4, 2007

3 Min Read

Sony Ericsson last month at 3GSM in Barcelona said it was looking for partners for its UIQ platform, which it acquired several months earlier. The move was designed to help Sony Ericsson grow UIQ beyond just the confines of its own handset ecosystem and to challenge Nokia's S60 platform. Sony Ericsson is obviously trying to make sure that S60 doesn't dominate the smartphone marketplace. But is Sony Ericsson's current strategy the best way to achieve this end?Opening UIQ to other investors and/or technology partners is a great idea. Could other handset vendors out there be looking to join Sony Ericsson's UIQ party? Rumors were floating last month that Sony Ericsson had another investor on the hook, but no news has surfaced to date.

Regardless, Ovum analysts Tony Cripps and Adam Leach suggest another path for Sony Ericsson:

OEM interest in UIQ has never been high. Sony Ericsson, by far its biggest supporter, has only offered six handsets that use the software since 2003. Meanwhile, Motorola, UIQ's second-string team, has offered five, including its new RIZR Z8 (although some of these can be considered variants rather than separate products). Other than that, Arima has built two UIQ devices and BenQ two (including one sold in China by Nokia as the 6708).

In comparison, upwards of 50 designs have been launched based on the S60 in roughly the same time period and they continue to appear in large numbers. Admittedly, most of these have been Nokia designs. However, nine have been from S60 licensees - the same number as non-Sony Ericsson UIQ designs. The economics of S60 clearly stack up better over the long term than those of UIQ, even if Nokia remains the primary beneficiary.

Translation: Partners aren't enough. Nokia is a lot bigger than Sony Ericsson. Not only that, but Nokia will be bigger than any combination of partners Sony Ericsson hopes to string together for UIQ. This move simply won't effectively challenge S60's market dominance.

Instead, Cripps and Leach argue that Sony Ericsson make UIQ open source. What is that I hear? Crickets chirping? Coughing? Loud groans?

He's serious:

There would be several benefits of the open source approach for UIQ. A truly open application framework for Symbian would generate greater demand from phone vendors than the opportunity to become a shareholder. UIQ would also benefit from developments made by other phone vendors using the UIQ framework, lowering its operating costs. OEMs could then make use of these developments without sacrificing their own differentiation.

More importantly, it would lob a grenade into Nokia's S60 software license and fee structure. If UIQ is open source, so the argument goes, handset makers and developers will line up with Sony Ericsson to avoid paying Nokia more money.

Of course, this strategy is completely at odds with Apple's play with the iPhone, where the entire platform will be closed.

I am skeptical about this proposed strategy. We've been waiting for Linux in the wireless market for years now, but aside from a few novel devices, it's really not had much success to speak of on the smartphone side of things. Would making UIQ open source really create any impact?

This seems like an interesting suggestion but it really avoids the more crucial question: Can Sony Ericsson convince the other major handset makers to use UIQ? Will making UIQ open source guarantee thay they will use the platform? So far Linux's status as an open source technology hasn't helped it gain real market traction. So why would this move be any different?

What do you think? Should Sony Ericsson push UIQ open source? How should such a move sit with Symbian, which relies on licensing fees for its business? And would it really make a difference in terms of competing with S60 or the iPhone?

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