Page last updated at 14:05 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 15:05 UK

Symbian to develop mobile apps

Nokia phone Hong Kong (AFP/Getty)
Applications for all mobile operating systems are proliferating

Symbian, the operating system on nearly half the world's smartphones, is to become involved in the development of mobile applications, or apps.

Symbian will be a one-stop location for app developers, standardising and testing software and then making it available to existing app storefronts.

Called Horizon, the approach follows the lead set by other operating system makers such as Microsoft and Apple.

The not-for-profit Symbian Foundation will launch the service in October.

The announcement of Horizon follows Apple's statement on Tuesday that its App Store has seen 1.5 billion app downloads in a year, showing that a significant market exists for a centralised source of application software.

Handset manufacturers, mobile network operators and independent sites have opened their own application stores, but Horizon will aim to provide a centralised, smooth route to market to solidify Symbian's place in an increasingly crowded operating system market.

Content catalogue

"We have a thriving application developer community right now, with a number of ways to develop them and we have a number of our partners producing stores to get those applications to consumers," said Shaun Puckrin, who heads the Horizon project.

"What this programme is doing is making the combination of developing your application and getting it into the store as easy and with as little hassle as possible," he told BBC News.

"And it's a service to the stores, which is to say: 'Hey, we've got this great catalogue of content that you should have in your store.'"

LG stand at CommunicAsia
Application popularity will be part of manufacturers' choice of OS

The centralisation of application development and distribution could present credible competition to Apple's iPhone Dev Center and App Store, which until now has set the bar for application variety and sales.

The Symbian Foundation now hopes to raise the profile of the Symbian platform, making its capacity for applications as widely known as that of its competitors.

"What the iPhone has done is woken up the consumer to this kind of content and the ability for applications on phones," said Mr Puckrin. "We've always had a lot of innovation and great applications and services on Symbian; all we're doing is providing an easier channel to get them to a keen consumer base."

New economy

John Delaney, a research director for analysts IDC, sees the move as part of a natural progression the technology community has seen before.

"Handsets are starting to turn into general purpose devices rather than special purpose devices," he told BBC News.

"In many ways it's analogous to what happened to the PC industry. The hardware has become increasingly generic and the value of the device is in the software. The reverse has been true for most of the mobile phone's history and that's likely to change."

As the market focus shifts from hardware functionality to software availability, the new economy of application sales and brand loyalty is still to be worked out.

"What isn't clear yet is how much people will be willing to pay for those applications and the extent to which being a source of those applications gives you a grip on the customer."

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