Analyst: Android, Symbian should combine

Android and Symbian combo would be good for the industry, good for Google and good for Symbian, analyst says.

As wireless computing mushrooms with new devices, applications and a global move toward "openness," one analyst is suggesting some contraction is in order.

Specifically, analyst Jack Gold says the open Symbian and open Android operating systems should combine into a single open source operating system for mobile devices. He further predicts that such a combination will occur in three to six months. Gold said he based his comments on conditions in the market and not on information that officials in either movement told him.

Officials from Symbian Software Ltd. would not comment, saying they do not comment on market speculation, and officials from the Open Handset Alliance, which is developing the Android mobile platform, could not be reached for comment.

Gold said that Android backers have not commented to him specifically on the possibility of a combination, but Symbian sources have indicated a willingness to work with other open source groups. "With so many players on both teams, there has to be some cross-fertilization going on and no doubt some discussions," Gold said in an email.

Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass., said there are real advantages to a combination for both groups.

"Having an open source OS that is adopted by a broad array of device manufacturers allows [the manufacturers] to better compete for additional business by allowing sales of games, music, videos, apps and other services even on those devices not manufactured by their own company," Gold wrote in a report released today.

The combination is also bolstered by a recent set of events. For one, a functional Android Software Developer Kit was not made available in a timely fashion to all developers as expected this spring, Gold said.

Also, Android backers, which include Google, said a working phone would be available in the second half of 2008, but Gold said it won't be ready until next year. "Google is learning how hard it is to create a good mobile OS," Gold said. Meanwhile, Google's attention to Android has diluted Google's potential to build compelling cross-device applications that could generate revenues, he said.

Some history: Android and the Open Handset Alliance were announced last November, with predictions that a phone would appear in the second half of 2008. Subsequently, several demonstrations of the technology and comments by analysts made it seem the phone might have launched by now.

Nokia announced the Symbian Foundation a month ago, saying the group would be devoted to making the widely used Symbian operating system an open platform, with licenses to be offered royalty-free. Nokia, which owns 48% of Symbian, plans to acquire all its remaining assets and transfer them to the foundation. Symbian operates on about 200 million phones worldwide.

Gold noted that many of the same companies are sponsors of both the OHA and the Symbian Foundation, and some of them have stated that competing for operating system superiority is "not where they need to be," he said. Combining Symbian with Android would require a combination of the two code bases.

If Android and Symbian were joined, Gold said it is highly likely that other open source mobile operating system efforts will join in, such as the LiMo Foundation in London.

Gold said the logic of such a combination of open platforms is obvious. "The mobile market needs some level of consolidation of platforms if it is to make big leaps forward, as app developers currently struggle to make their products available on so many platforms," Gold said.

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

A combined open source operating system would also appeal to business users and IT shops who want to deploy mobile open source on multiple devices, much the way that Windows Mobile is provided, Gold said. In addition, a combination could also remove the controls that wireless carriers place on specific devices that restrict which applications and services can be used on them, Gold said.

If Android and Symbian do combine, it would pose a challenge to Apple Inc. and the iPhone in the long term since only Apple offers the iPhone operating system based on Mac OS X, Gold said. "Not licensing the OS to other manufacturers is exactly what hurt Mac against Windows on the PC," Gold added. "The parallel to iPhone is striking."

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