Symbian sets aggressive release plan

Symbian announced that it plans to release a new version of the software every six months.

The Symbian Foundation plans to release a new version of the operating system every six months, with the first expected to appear in phones at the end of this year.

Last week the foundation, formed after Nokia bought out the remainder of Symbian last year and vowed to make the software open source, revealed its release plan for the software. The schedule is so aggressive that going forward, the group will typically be working on five versions at the same time.

The first release, with the difficult-to-pronounce-name Symbian^2, will be complete by the end of the year and will be based on S60 5.1, the user interface developed by Nokia. That means that phones using the operating system could go on sale this year, depending on choices that manufacturers make, said David Wood, executive vice president of research for Symbian, in a blog post.

The next release, Symbian^3, should appear in phones by the middle of 2010, he said.

Features that will appear in Symbian^2 are set and most of the features for Symbian^3 are agreed on, but some changes could still happen. The content of Symbian^4 "is much more open for debate," Wood said.

When asked in the comments after the blog post how users should pronounce the new name, Wood said: "The simplest way to pronounce 'Symbian^2' is 'Symbian two'. But I'm sure people will also say things like 'Symbian to the power of two' and 'Symbian mark two' and 'Symbian spring two'."

If the foundation can stick to the time schedule, it will be releasing new software much more frequently than competitors. By comparison, Microsoft unveiled Windows Mobile 6 in February 2007 and just this year announced a partial update to version 6.5. Apple has been a bit more frequent in its iPhone software updates. It introduced iPhone 2.0 software in July 2008, a year after unveiling the initial version of the phone, and the company is expected to announce the third version of the software on Tuesday.

The frequent-release schedule could allow Symbian to stay on the cutting edge of mobile developments. That could help it regain some of the momentum that it has lost in the past year or so. Researchers at Gartner recently said that Symbian's market share plummeted by 21.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the fourth quarter of 2007. In the fourth quarter last year, Symbian had 47.1 percent market share. Research In Motion came in second place with 19.5 percent, according to Gartner, so Symbian still has a solid lead despite the loss.

"This is not a surprising turn of events - Symbian was bound to lose the dominance it acquired when it was virtually the only smartphone OS apart from Windows Mobile, as the market matured and new challengers arose," wrote Caroline Gabriel, an analyst at Rethink Research, in a note about Symbian's announced OS release schedule.

The aggressive plan shows that Symbian is aware of the competitive landscape."So Symbian is fighting back, with a clear eye on the midyear launches of a host of Android phones, the Palm Pre, and new iPhone and BlackBerry models," Gabriel wrote.

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