Symbian: 'Why does Google need Android?'

21st May 2009 | 17:20

Symbian: 'Why does Google need Android?'

Questions point of OS, calls Android strategy "weird"

Symbian Foundation leadership team member Tim Holbrow has questioned Google's purpose behind pursuing its own Android mobile platform, calling its strategy "weird."

In an exclusive interview with TechRadar before his speech at Wireless and Mobile 09 in London yesterday, Holbrow questioned whether Google's bullish attitude to Android could be an issue of control.

"Android's a very interesting one," he said. "A question I've asked lots of people – and not had a good answer to yet – is, I can understand the Android strategy for Google when they launched it a couple of years ago but following the creation of Symbian Foundation...and given that Google have done a lot a lot of work on Symbian, why does Google need Android now Symbian's open source?

"It seems like a bit of a weird strategy," he continued. "I mean, you could see a way forward for them contributing Dalvik (Android's virtual machine) into Symbian, it would be almost job done for them and they can start really engaging with [Symbian].

"I haven't heard a good answer to that – why does Google need Android? My concern is it's a control issue, because that's not healthy for an open source platform."

Holbrow is also surprised that iPhone and Android gets quite so much coverage as it does, even if the rise in profile of mobile apps and open source is good for Symbian, too.

"We've always seen that Symbian is this large portion of lots of devices shipping, then there's this little Apple and Google slice that gets all the attention. I'm always a bit surprised at the column inches that Android gets given the number of phones they've got and units that they've shipped. [But] if they're promoting open source [it's good for the industry].

"You've seen the benefit of the iPhone throughout the whole industry. App Store gets the whole idea of applications into people's mindsets. It's allowed us to get our message across more easily."

Getting more apps onto Symbian

Holbrow, who is on Symbian's leadership team, was at the show to talk up the benefits of Symbian's new open source status. The not-for-profit Symbian Foundation is now in full control of the platform.

So how have the beta developers received things so far? The developers aren't feeling the newness of it yet, but I think over the course of the next six months we'll start to engage quite heavily with developers bringing their applications across to Symbian," he says.

"The key thing for developers as I see it is, they can almost get past the tools, they can almost get past the support but what they really want to see is 'how can I convert [the innovation in my head] into something that's going to make me money?'

And Holbrow is complementary about Apple's model. "I guess as open source I should be talking in more religious terms but...what [developers] like about the Apple Store is that 'I can understand if I create a [popular] application I can make lots of money out of it.'"

Holbrow also believes the massive market penetration of Symbian handsets will help persuade developers that the platform should be a priority in terms of development. "It's this route to market that we really need to...sell. There is an enormous volume out there.

"You can ship 800,000 units of an application on App Store, if you can get the same level of success on Symbian phones you're talking about a market that's hundreds of millions rather than tens. There really is a global market to address."

Breeding innovation

Holbrow also belives that open source will breed innovation on the platform – a major motivation behind Symbian going open source – and that some will miss out by pursuing closed models. "I think companies taking a locked in, single supplier, one size fits all model [are] missing out on a huge amount of opportunity for use and innovation, the huge variety of applications and devices that are available."

"Companies that don't evolve with the way the market is going, they will suffer for certain. Open source provides innovation. If there's an itch to be scratched, what you're looking for is the industry to step up and scratch that itch."

Holbrow believes Symbian is "in effect a method of everyone competing" even if there is convergence between platforms. "The point is if you have two Wi-Fi stacks going against one another, the members will decide which one to go for and if they don't like it they can branch. They have to make their amendments public, but they don't have to contribute them back in and we don't have to accept them.

"It really is an open platform. You could survive with a single huge platform and still have competition."

As we reported yesterday, Holbrow also talked up the possibility that netbooks could evolve into mobile devices that are essentially a processor, adapting to the environment in which they're put.

Referring to new converged devices coming onto the market – and those superconverged devices Symbian believes will enter the ring over the coming years - Holbrow added: "There's a huge amount of technology going on there and I don't think any one company can swallow the cost of that development.

"While we have these parallel operating systems going alongside one another there's inefficiency there. With the Symbian Foundation, and Android is a similar model, there's an opportunity to share costs with other people. And what it does is end up with a ubiquitous platform hopefully. "

And what do the coming months hold in store for Symbian? "We're coming up the anniversary [of Symbian Foundation], we're really running now. We're up to 70 or 80 people... starting to get a global base. And now we're really starting to grow our members.

"What we're really looking to do is grow the alliances around our members. I think we'll be seeing a lot more work around the Symbian Foundation. You can get beta test access at the site and see all the code there. I don't feel like it's a new start, it really is a new start."

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Like this article? Then check out Symbian: netbook future is 'superconverged'

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