"We expect that within the next 3-6 months, Symbian and Android will combine to provide a single open-source operating system," said Jack E. Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, who has been tracking computer, electronics and mobile phone spaces over 35 years. "Many of the same sponsors are involved in both initiatives."
"The question is, how many open source mobile platforms do we need? The mobile market does not need more divergence. It needs convergence, and this would be a way to accomplish this," said Gold. "The mobile market needs some level of consolidation of platforms if it is to make big leaps forward, as developers currently struggle to make their applications available on so many divergent platforms." Other key players in the mobile OS arena are Windows Mobile, Palm and Apple.
Reasoning behind the merger
Google has already slipped with Android, the analyst notes. The search giant would be better served if it focused on bringing its services and cross-device applications to the mobile phone space where it can leverage its advertising engine to generate substantial revenues. Symbian already enjoys dominant market share in smart phones but it could benefit from some Android features that could fill its own gaps. Gold thinks that an open version of Symbian "won’t be available for 18-24 months so there is ample time to combine the two code bases, combining the best of both into a consolidated OS."
The most important reason for the merger is the fact that Symbian partners have realized that competing in the OS market is not where they need to be. Instead, mobile phone vendors should concentrate on providing a compelling end user experience and service offerings. By releasing resources allocated to the OS development, phone vendors can concentrate their efforts on generating new revenue streams by selling games, music, videos, applications and premium services. Most key players have already learned this lesson.
Nokia in particular is focused on expanding service offerings and it acquired couple of established online properties to complete the puzzle. The fruit of these efforts is OVI, Nokia’s online service that aims to be a one-stop shop for music, games and user-generated content, connecting and sharing users who do not necessarily have to own Nokia-branded device. Gold says that such end-user services can keep users loyal to the brand and generate substantial revenues.
Apple has learned this lesson long ago with its computers and is repeating the strategy with the iPhone. The company first brought the iTunes music store to the iPhone and then it introduced App Store to enable users to browse, download and buy third-party iPhone applications directly on the handset. Apple takes 30 percent of whatever developers charge for their applications. The Cupertino-based gadget maker also has high hopes for the recently introduced MobileMe suite of online services which offers 20GB of online storage, push email, calendar and contacts and seamless synchronization capabilities for the iPhone for $99 a year.
A gargantuan task
When you look at it from the computer industry perspective, the desktop OS market converged in its infancy and it came down to today’s three basic choices: Windows, OS X or various flavors of UNIX. We have a feeling that the mobile OS is moving in this direction and will ultimately end up with three choices: Symbian, Windows Mobile and the iPhone OS (it’s doubtful that mobile Linux variants will sustain market consolidation).
But combining Android and Symbian into a single product could be a gargantuan task, especially if the new OS has to provide backwards compatibility with the existing library of Symbian applications and the upcoming library of Android applications. Symbian has already said it will undertake major efforts to merge code bases from its supporting partners (Symbian, Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, DoCoMo) into a new platform that will be able to run legacy applications. Gold thinks this is the opportunity to add the Android code base as well.
"Now would be the time to add another code base rather than doing it sometime down the road when things are more fixed," , he said in an email interview with TGDaily. Ultimately, the final outcome will be decided by politics. "It is the Symbian board who will make that decision, based on the voting shares of its members," said Gold.