Why is Google Android beating Symbian?

Both Google Android and Symbian are open-source mobile platforms. So why is Android getting so much more traction, despite being later than Symbian to the party?

In the battle of the open-source mobile platforms, developers have at least two choices: Google Android, which is open source but (relatively) closed development, or Symbian, which is open source...once it gets around to releasing the full source code.

Guess which one is winning?

You can't code me, but at least you can buy me. Google

Gartner expects Android to become the second-most popular mobile platform within the next few years as it continues to gobble up Symbian's declining market share.

But why?

Symbian has been dismissive of Google Android, as well as smaller upstarts like the LiMo Foundation, arguing that the latter is overly focused on middleware for wireless operators and the former is fake open source with more hype than substance.

All of which might be true, but the reality is that it seems to be working for Android. Google has been signing new handset manufacturers at a frenetic pace, while Symbian has been holding steady with Nokia...and that's about it.

Despite Symbian announcing new handsets, Google is actually shipping Android. There's a big difference between marketing and reality. Google Android offers the latter.

For all the buzz that Android gets from developers, its success owes more to handset manufacturers than to open-source developers. Handset manufacturers and wireless carriers are hungry for alternatives to surging Apple and declining Microsoft. And while others may not be seeing source code in copious amounts, handset manufacturers are apparently getting their fill.

More than this, though, Google gives them a safe, consumer-friendly brand. Symbian does not.

This is the reason Google Android is winning. It's not about developers--at least, not yet. Neither Symbian nor Android really offers developers open communities and open code.

No, the difference today is brand. Google has it. Symbian does not, and that's despite decade-long dominance of the mobile market.

Symbian still has a ways to go. It has a weak user interface (UI) that is supposed to get better, but that describes much that is wrong with Symbian today. Everything (source code, revamped UI, and resumption of market dominance) is always spoken of in the future tense.

Meanwhile, Google Android rolls on--not because it out open-sources Symbian, but rather because it out-executes it.

About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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