In the battle to establish a next-generation mobile operating system based on open source software, rivals Google and Symbian both claim the higher ground
If you thought the rise of open OS platforms would herald a new era of peace and harmony in the mobile industry you'd be sadly mistaken, as rival players in the space Google (GOOG) and the Symbian Foundation – which drive different 'open' OS platforms – have taken side-swipes at each other.
Google jumped into the mobile world just over two years ago with the public announcement of its mobile OS platform Android, while the newly created Symbian Foundation is reworking various flavours of the proprietary Symbian OSes into one, unified platform for release later this year.
Despite the release of Android's source code last year, Symbian Foundation director Lee Williams claimed the Linux-based Google OS merely wears a big 'open' badge to disguise its underlying 'closed shop' ethos.
"Android is not open," he told silicon.com. "It's a marketing label. It's controlled by Google."
"It's a pretty label but I don't think the use of Linux is synonymous with open and they may have made that mistake of assuming it is," he added.
Unsurprisingly, in Williams' view an open platform requires a community behind it.
"If you were to ask me [the Symbian Foundation] roadmap for the next two years I'm going to tell you I don't know – I can tell you... what the plans are but other than that it's up to the community to take it where it wants to go," he explained.
However, Android co-founder and Google's VP of mobile, Rich Miner, scorned the notion of a group-led platform being open.
"If you're talking about a platform and the source code isn't completely available for that platform, I would say it's misleading to call that platform open," he said at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show last week. "Because that platform can't be adapted, changed and shaped by the people who are consuming that platform – the handset OEMs or the carriers. I'd say that if you need to join some sort of a club in order to get access to the source code – so membership in some consortium or some other group – then it really truly isn't open."
The Symbian Foundation platform is available to Foundation members via a royalty free licence. Membership of the Foundation is open to companies or organisations – but not individuals – and carries an annual membership fee of $1,500.
Miner also rebutted criticism Google controls the platform, telling the MWC audience: "There is no Google technology built into it that we haven't made available to others. So we're enabling our competitors as much as ourselves," adding: "We think that when somebody controls an entire platform like that it's bad for the industry. They have huge leverage and this is why Google invests so much in open platforms and technologies."
Unlike the Symbian Foundation – which is a not-for-profit organisation – Google is a business and therefore "to some extent for the most part we are capitalists", Miner conceded, adding Google doesn't necessarily "think everything should be necessarily open and free".
Asked what challenges lie ahead for Google's Android, the Symbian Foundation's Williams said fragmentation is a key challenge – dubbing Android: "just another Linux effort with a popular consumer brand attached to them".
Naturally, Google's Miner disagrees, saying Android can help unite the open source community.
"When people talk about 'is Android going to be more fragmentation in this Linux handset space?' we actually think no, because there is no other Linux offering that offers such a rich set of capabilities. We just think it's going to be more of a unifying factor hopefully to the Linux base than something that fractures it further," he said.