Symbian bids to control app store frameworks with Horizon
Published: 17 July, 2009
Symbian has been working away quietly on creating an open source platform to rival Android and prevent the Google upstart stealing all its dominant share of the smartphone OS market. It is almost ready to unleash its offerings on the world, hoping to divert some of the limelight from Android, with the beta release of the first open source iteration, Symbian ^2, due within weeks. And it has put flesh behind its previous, vague, hints of entering the content distribution and app store fields, with an initiative called Horizon.
Symbian has not planned a single branded store like Android Market, leaving that up to licensees, such as Nokia with Ovi Store. But it aims to provide the underlying frameworks to make it easier for Symbian-based vendors or operators to create innovative stores and content platforms. Making stores interoperable, and creating a common set of APIs so that developers can target a wide range of outlets, is an increasingly important goal, and the latest battleground in the fight to drive and shape the mobile web experience. Symbian's bid will run into related moves by Ericsson, which wants to create a hosted app store template for carriers, and Qualcomm, with its Plaza online retail framework, based around the venerable Brew content distribution system. There is also the OneAPI initiative from the GSM Assocation, which opens up a set of common interfaces to allow apps to work more easily across different operator networks and shopfronts.
The first contribution from the Symbian Foundation is Horizon, an app publishing program that also supports marketing services and multiple language translation. It aims to help developers create and distribute mobile software to any Symbian-based handset or store. It will be free for developers to sign up (from October), and Horizon can also provide payment processing services, aggregating payments from across different markets and stores.
The current version of Symbian OS has 49.3% share of the smartphone market, according to Gartner, and features on 70 handsets in 26 countries, with Europe its heartland. Predictably, Symbian's first customer for store-related services was Nokia with Ovi Store, and it is also working with Samsung on Application Store and - significantly, given AT&T's recent shifts towards wide scale Symbian adoption - that operator's Media Mall.
The Symbian Foundation's Larry Berkin said greater consistency and simplicity would be essential if the store boom was not to be stifled. "Getting an application signed is a bit of a challenge for developers," he said. "Getting through that process has been less than efficient." He said a system more akin to that of the book market was required, with "technical, administrative and marketing support" for authors.
Over with another would-be Android challenger, Palm, the company is closing down its early access program for its Linux-based webOS and opening up its delayed Mojo software developer kit to the developer community at large. "We opened up the program to everyone and released our new public developer portal at http://developer.palm.com ... This is one more step in delivering webOS to all developers and providing the tools they need to build great applications for Palm phones," said the company blog.