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Nokia's Plans for Symbian vs. Maemo

While Symbian continues to dominate the smartphone market it could soon be facing increasing competition from a new quarter—Maemo.

There's no debating that the Symbian platform remains the daddy of the smartphone world: one in every two sold today carries the Symbian OS.

But there could be clouds on the horizon. According to the analysts, while the number of Symbian phones sold will continue to increase over the coming years, its years of growth will eventually come to an end with a fall in device shipments in 2014.

New entrants to the market including Google's (GOOG) Android will continue to snap at Symbian's heels, according to market watchers In-Stat, with the company also seeing increasing competition from a new quarter—Maemo, a Linux-based OS for mobile devices.

"New OSes such as Android and Maemo will cut away at Symbian market share," Allen Nogee, In-Stat analyst, said in a statement, adding: "Although there are relatively few open source OS-based smartphones in the market today, the open source OS momentum is difficult to ignore."

But Maemo in particular is not just any old competitor—it was developed by Nokia (NOK), the same company responsible for the lion's share of Symbian devices in the market today.

While Nokia has favoured Symbian software—now in the process of being unified into a single open source OS platform under the guidance of the Symbian Foundation—for its high end smartphones, such as the N Series, one of its latest high-end devices—the N900, a smartphone in all but name—runs Maemo.

With Nokia now using two separate smartphone OSes, questions have been asked over whether the advent of Maemo could signal a lessening of Nokia's support for Symbian.

At the Symbian Exchange & Exposition last week, when asked to clarify how its plans for Maemo fit with support for Symbian, David Rivas, Nokia's VP of technology management, suggested Nokia has different plans for the two operating systems.

"I think what you're going to see in the future is we're going to be developing extremely innovative, very creative products on Maemo—and we're going to be continuing to drive the predominate amount of value from our portfolio from Symbian. And that's where we'll be for years to come," he told delegates during a Q&A.

Rivas added that the intention with Maemo is to "experiment with the opportunity of taking a product that is essentially unencumbered from any kind of legacy at all".

But speaking to the Symbian Foundation's executive director Lee Williams said there is still plenty of life in Symbian.

"We have a broader base of technology support so, as an example, you can go and pick out different hardware components easier that work with our platform than the others than you could with a Maemo or Linux implementation."

So where, in Williams' view, does Maemo sit in Nokia's roadmap? "As I understand it there is a category of products in the Nokia portfolio where they feel Maemo is their best software option but I think it's a mistake to assume that category of product represents the high end smartphone space or that it represents any kind of lack of commitment to also have Symbian in that segment of the portfolio," he said.

Symbian's long-standing relationships with operators are another advantage for the platform, according to Williams.

"You can get to channel faster with a Symbian high end product than you can with Linux high end products whether they be Android or Maemo as a result of our close operator working relationships and the fact that our stack has already been tuned for those certification passes for those operators," he claimed.

Asked where he hopes the Symbian platform will be in a year's time, he said: "I hope it will have removed any concept that it's a legacy platform."

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