Symbian Foundation to Launch No-Charge App Store for Developers

The Symbian Foundation is working to ensure that it provides the shortest path for mobile developers not only to develop applications, but to go from application development to making money on the applications they build. To that end, the foundation will launch an "application inventory" where developers will not be charged a fee or percentage to distribute their applications via the foundation's channel.

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MONTE CARLO-The Symbian Foundation is working to ensure that it provides the shortest path for mobile developers not only to develop applications, but to go from application development to making money on the applications they build.

In a keynote at the Nokia Developer Summit here, Lee Williams, executive director of the Symbian Foundation, said, "The shortest path to the developers wins."

The Symbian Foundation was formed in 2008 after Nokia acquired Symbian Ltd. and then announced plans to deliver an open-source mobile operating system based on Symbian OS and other variants. Williams, a former Nokia executive, was tapped to head up the foundation that the cell phone giant spun out as an independent entity.

Now Williams and the foundation are exerting their independence.

"We're behind today," Williams said in an interview with eWEEK. "The Apple approach has shown that paying 30 percent to Apple for the sake of a channel is acceptable to developers."

However, Williams further explained that "today it's worth paying 30 percent to get a short path [to the marketplace]; tomorrow it won't be. You shouldn't have to pay. And when the short path exists everywhere, you won't need to pay that 30 percent."

The 30 percent is the amount Apple and other mobile platform providers are charging or planning to charge developers to distribute applications on their existing storefronts, such as the Apple App Store, Research In Motion's BlackBerry App World and Microsoft's upcoming Windows Marketplace. Even Nokia's own upcoming Ovi Store will charge developers a 30 percent fee.

However, Williams said, "Sometime this year we will launch an application inventory," where developers can distribute their tools and applications through the foundation. "And we're not going to charge developers for checking into the inventory," he said.

However, developers can plug into the Symbian Foundation inventory and push their own storefront out based on customized tools, Williams said. This would represent an opportunity for quick monetization for a lot of developers, or "a lot of honey for a lot of bees," said Jon Erickson of Dr. Dobbs.

"We are ambassadors of a new supply chain model," Williams said.

Williams said the code base the foundation is working on is not limited to use on mobile devices. Indeed, "there's a good chance of running Symbian on non-mobile platforms. Symbian's been portable on x86 for some time."

Asked if there would be a Symbian-based netbook, Williams said it is possible.

"What's required is some investment. The issue is not whether or not our code could do it. ... Our code can do it."

On a different note, Williams said the Symbian Foundation effort to deliver an open-source code base from what amounts to a conglomeration of different pieces of one-time commercial or proprietary code is quite difficult and different from many open-source efforts because they are "green field" efforts.

The Symbian Foundation will deliver the first distribution of its open mobile code base in May during "week 19" of 2009. However, it will not be until 2010 when the code base is complete and everything falls under the Eclipse Public License (EPL), he said.

The Symbian Foundation is a member of the Eclipse Foundation and vice versa, according to Williams. "We've adopted their license model and their tools message," he said.

Comparing the Symbian Foundation to other open-source efforts, particularly in the mobile platform arena, Williams said: "We are more open than anything out there, Android or otherwise. Google can come sit on our council. I don't see the same thing with OHA [the Open Handset Alliance, which oversees the development of Android]. It's not about code; it's about a mind-set."

In terms of philosophy for the Symbian Foundation, Williams said, "Meritocracy rules and transparency is contagious." Open and de facto standards will rule, and APIs are open or they're obsolete, he added.

In addition, Williams said he expects the Symbian Foundation to have more than 100 members by the end of 2009.