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Mobile OS Wars: Nokia Snaps Up Symbian

Having already bolstered its services capabilities with an acquisition Monday, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) opened its wallet again Tuesday to take full ownership of Symbian Ltd. and send a clear message to Apple and Google: "You're not going to walk all over the established order in the new round of mobile operating platform battles." (See Nokia Buys Symbian.)

Following Monday's news that it's buying European mobile social networking startup Plazes for an unknown sum, the Finnish giant today announced plans to acquire the 52 percent of mobile operating platform specialist Symbian it doesn't already own, for €264 million (US$411 million). (See Nokia Is Going Plazes.)

Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications , Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Panasonic Mobile Communications Co. Ltd. , and Siemens International Holding BV, part of Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE), have all agreed to sell their stakes to Nokia, which expects Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) to also agree to sell its near 5 percent stake. (See Ericsson Sells Symbian Stake.)

Once those transactions are complete, Nokia, along with an influential group of vendors and carriers, will form the Symbian Foundation. In addition to Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson, the Foundation's initial members include AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM), Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). "Membership of this non-profit Foundation will be open to all organizations," for a small annual fee of $1,500, note the founders. (See Symbian Foundation Formed.)

The aim of the Foundation is to create a single, open, mobile software platform that will build on Symbian's existing deployments: The mobile OS has been shipped in more than 200 million handsets, with more than 77 million of those devices having been shipped in 2007 alone. (See Symbian Passes 75M Mark.)

To achieve this, Nokia (once the acquisition process is complete) will contribute the Symbian OS and the S60 smartphone software platform to the Foundation, while Sony Ericsson and Motorola plan to contribute UIQ device software platform technology. (See Symbian Updates OS, Sony Ericsson Buys Symbian Unit, and Nokia: Touching 3G.)

In addition, NTT DoCoMo has "indicated its willingness" to contribute its Mobile Oriented Applications Platform (MOAP) assets, which underpin its FOMA 3G services. (See DoCoMo Boasts 3G Subs and FOMA SH904i Launches in Japan.)

The resulting unified platform will then be licensed to all Foundation members for free to encourage adoption and attract applications developers.

The move comes as competition in the mobile operating system (OS) world intensifies, with the iPhone (which runs an Apple OS) growing in popularity, and the industry in a high state of excitement about Google's Android OS. Nokia has been particularly critical of Google's entry into the market. (See Android Slowing Down?, Opera Goes for Android , 2008: A Fractured World for Developers, 3G iPhone Is Loose, and 10 Reasons to Keep Your Old iPhone.)

But it's likely to be a while before Android-based handsets are widely available, so there's a chance for the Symbian Foundation to make a broad impact on the market, even if the organization won't be up and running until early next year. (See Now Wait for Android.)

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