Come next year, Symbian is hoping to stage a come-back. As you’ll recall, the organization, whose software powers many of the world’s smartphones, has long been under attack. Rival mobile-phone software from Apple and Android alliance has made massive strides in the past year grabbing away a chunk of Symbian’s market share. In the second quarter, Symbian held 51% of global smartphone operating system market share, down from 57% in the same year-ago quarter, according to consultant Gartner.
But there are signs that Symbian and its supporters are hoping to stage a come-back in the coming year. Attendance at next week’s Symbian Exchange & Exposition in London is expected to rise 20% to 25% from year-ago levels, says Lee Williams, executive director of the Symbian Foundation. Despite the global recession, Symbian also expects to see more exhibitors on the show’s floor. And Symbian Foundation’s membership is up 60% since the beginning of the year, to 160 members, including some of the world’s largest carriers and handset makers.
Growing interest in smartphones among consumers is likely the biggest driver of this renewed interest in Symbian. As more people buy the phones, capable of browsing the Web and downloading applications, handset makers and carriers are becoming more invested in all mobile operating systems, including Symbian. But Symbian also has several things going for it specifically: The organization, which, last year, announced it will open up its proprietary code for everyone to contribute to, is ahead of schedule in that endeavor. While, previously, Symbian Foundation expected to release an open-source version of its software by mid-2010, it now believes it could put out a release as soon as at the end of the first quarter of next year, Williams tells me. Already, this week, the Foundation has put out a large chunk of the code for handset and silicon makers to use for designing new Symbian phones. Williams expects the first phones based on the new code to come out in 2010.
Clearly, the Foundation is trying its hardest to stay relevant and to stem market-share losses; but its competitors aren’t standing still. The Android effort is gathering steam, and has gained increased support in recent months from the likes of Verizon Wireless and Motorola. While Symbian has also gained supporters, like China Mobile, it need to announce a lot more partners before its market share can stabilize. Symbian’s futurist David Wood has just resigned, and some observers see that as a sign that the Symbian Foundation is still in flux and trying to find its way.