Seems Symbian is Vulnerable

It Was Only Yesterday…

When TDG released our Advanced Mobile Operating Systems report in February of this year 2006 – a report presenting the case as to why mobile Linux and Windows would both pick up market share at the cost of Symbian’s dominance – we received quite a bit of feedback.  While much of the feedback was positive, not surprisingly some of it was negative – the cost of being the first to officially offend the incumbent!

Since the report was introduced, a number of events have unfolding which validated our claims.  We’re not much for ‘told you so’ commentary, but when truly unique, ahead-of-the-curve insights are proven correct (especially in regards to a market as important as mobile operating systems), it is valuable to pause and reflect.  And there have been a number of recent announcements to generate such reflection.

Recent Announcements & Activity

  1. During June, Microsoft announced plans to create a new unified communications system architecture intended to “break down today’s silos of e-mail, instant messaging, mobile and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony, and audio-, video- and web conferencing.”  Microsoft’s announcement included new business alliances with Motorola and Siemens to deliver mobile devices, network hardware and telephony, audio-, video- and web conferencing, instant messaging, and e-mail systems.
  2. On the Linux front, Motorola has announced the formation of a cross-industry consortium to further the progress of Linux on mobile devices.
  3. PalmSource, now a subsidiary of the Japanese browser giant Access, announced the Access Linux Platform (ALP).
  4. A 16-person startup in Silicon Valley (named “a la Mobile”) recently announced it will deliver a fully-formed mobile Linux stack by September 2006 – less than 90 days from the date of this writing.
  5. Further evidence of the rise of non-Symbian players can be seen in the dramatic (and unnerving to some) transformation of the LinuxWorld Expo tradeshow.  Once the province of alpha geeks focusing on desktop and server versions of Linux, the January 2006 LinuxWorld saw PalmSource attend as a Platinum Sponsor.  Not to be outdone, Motorola has purchased a Platinum sponsorship for the upcoming LinuxWorld to be held during August 2006 in San Francisco.

What is Going on Here?

For those of you new to this domain – or who may still be in denial about how the mobile operating system market is shaking out – these announcements are just the latest indications that times are about to change for market leviathan Symbian.  As TDG predicted, Symbian’s international dominance will be exposed to credible threats from two unrelated forces – Microsoft and Linux. 

So how significant are these latest announcements?

First, Microsoft is executing as expected in playing the enterprise card in its bid for domination of mobile communications.  In the Microsoft universe, the mobile communicating device is just another node in an all-encompassing, ubiquitous computing and communications fabric.

Second, no one can deny that the Linux movement is indeed gaining speed and traction.  In less than a year, the entire debate around mobile Linux has shifted from questioning IF it would become a force in the mobile OS space to determining HOW MUCH market share it will enjoy.

To some, this phase of mobile Linux evolution is disconcerting, bordering on alarming:  there are too many players, the market is too fragmented, and there is no single, standard platform.  Some die-hard Symbian proponents even point to this as a reason that Linux will fail as a basis for a mobile operating system.  My how quickly incumbents forget that this kind of activity is but a sign of a robust, emerging market space, one wherein many players emerge in recognition of the size of the opportunity. 

As this process of evolution advances, platforms will align, players will merge or exit, and new powers will materialize.  The only alternative to this kind of evolution is for one company to control the market prematurely, with the hope that it will evolve on its own in the best interest of all stakeholders.  This almost never happens – for illustration, look no further than the landline telecommunications industry.

It is important to recognize that the announced Microsoft and mobile Linux architectures are currently just that:  announcements.  The “proof is in the pudding”, and the first course has yet to be served.  Nonetheless, it is clear that Microsoft and Linux have both awakened to the potential of the mobile OS markets.  It is also clear (at least to those in the know) that the presence of Microsoft and Linux in this space will compromise Symbian’s market dominance.  As TDG has argued since February, Symbian is very likely to see its market share sink to less than 50% by 2010.

For those of you interested in learning more about how TDG sees this market unfolding in the next five years, I recommend picking up a copy of our Advanced Mobile Operating Systems report – it’s a few months old but years ahead of the market.

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The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.