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Nokia takes back Symbian development

The world of the Symbian mobile operating system continues to undergo major shifts—the Symbian Foundation has announced it is transitioning to a licensing-only operation, while Finland’s Nokia will be taking over continued development of the Symbian operating system. Nokia says it will continue to develop a “strong portfolio” of Symbian devices internationally, while the Symbian Foundation will be the legal entity that handles Symbian licensing and intellectual property, but no longer has a role in advancing the platform.

“The founding board members took a bold strategic step in setting up the foundation, which was absolutely the right decision at the time,” said the Symbian Foundation’s current executive director Tim Holbrow, in a statement. “There has since been a seismic change in the mobile market but also more generally in the economy, which has led to a change in focus for some of our funding board members. The result of this is that the current governance structure for the Symbian platform—the foundation—is no longer appropriate.”

The move comes after the Symbian Foundation unexpected lost its executive director and saw defections from major handset makers like Samsung and Sony-Ericsson, who have turned their attention to Google’s Android platform. However, Symbian remains the most widely-deployed mobile operating system on the planet, and just received a €22 million vote of confidence from European organizations and nations backing Symbian as an embedded platform.

The move marks a round trip for Symbian, which started out at Nokia and was transferred to the Symbian Foundation in 2008 in an effort to grow an ecosystem of devices and applications surrounding the platform. However, despite efforts to advance the platform with efforts like Symbian^3, the operating system has largely failed to compete against a surge of smartphone operating systems from the likes of RIM, Google, Apple, and Microsoft—particularly in the North American market—and even Nokia is pursuing a multi-platform strategy with forthcoming Meego devices. With Nokia bringing Symbian development back in house, the company—under its new leadership—will be able to more quickly develop Symbian devices to serve the developing and emerging markets where Nokia’s Symbian business continues to thrive. However, it’s not clear whether Nokia continues to intend to leverage Symbian into the high-profile—and high-margin—smartphone market.

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