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Symbian Makes a Play for Apple App Developers By Leveraging Web Standards

As the battle rages between Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs and Adobe (ADBE) over who's closed and proprietary and who's open, Symbian, which recently released its new Symbian^3 smartphone operating system, has decided to take advantage of the ruckus. The organization that develops the software favored by handset giant Nokia (NOK) has released a Symbian^3 OS app development kit that uses pure Web technology.

Practically anyone developing for the web will be able to create applications for a widely-used mobile platform using familiar and standard Web technologies -- HTML, Javascript, and what have you. In other words, developers won't need to learn a proprietary smartphone operating system to write apps for Symbian^3, as they would for the iPhone OS. The move speaks of a strategy to build app support for Symbian; attract wider use of Symbian^3, which powers the Nokia N8; and further paint competitors like Apple as closed and limited platforms.

The strategy is similar to one that Palm used with its webOS system.

  1. The operating system vendor natively incorporates Web technology, which is known by many developers, whether independent or working at a corporation.
  2. Requiring only familiar technology lowers entry barriers to creating applications.
  3. The operating system platform potentially gets many more apps.
  4. Growing the number of apps helps the platform become more popular, which then attracts more developers.
Palm wanted to fuel a positive feedback loop, with developers creating more interest for the platform, resulting in more customers and then even more developers targeting webOS. Palm's problem was that it couldn't get enough people to buy its handsets in the first place. That set off a negative feedback loop, with developers standing off, waiting for sales, and then customers wondering if a wider selection of apps would be available.

That is a problem over which Symbian needn't fret. Nokia is the largest mobile handset, and smartphone, maker in the world. Developers and marketers will find a large business opportunity. Furthermore, with all the controversy about Apple's relationship to developers, Symbian -- as well as Nokia -- hopes to get app developer defections.

There still is some risk in the venture. It is possible to create web-based apps for the iPhone or Google (GOOG) Android. However, such apps don't have access to the full range of resources available to native software. Web-based apps on Symbian, however, can be native. If Nokia and others using Symbian can continue to push hardware features that go beyond what an iPhone OS, Android, or BlackBerry OS phone has, the strategy might work.