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Symbian deal paves way for Web-style apps

A partnership with Nitobi to will make it easier to build applications using Web technology on Symbian phones using the PhoneGap software.

Symbian-PhoneGap partnership

Symbian, the Nokia smartphone operating system that's been languishing outside the limelight hogged by Apple's iOS and Google's Android, announced a significant move on Monday to try to reclaim some of its lost relevance.

Specifically, the Symbian Foundation has embraced the idea of Web applications--those that bridge the differences among different computing devices by employing standards such as HTML (Hypertext Markup Language for Web page description), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets for formatting), and JavaScript for processing.

To accomplish this, Symbian will integrate Nitobi's open-source PhoneGap tool with the Symbian^3 version of the software. This means programmers can write software using Web standards that run in a Web browser but also tap into native Symbian interfaces including geolocation, accelerometer data, the camera, text messaging, contacts database, sounds, and network availability.

With Apple's iPhone showing what's possible and attracting millions of customers, companies with mobile phone platforms are racing to build rich ecosystems of programmers, phone technology, programming tools, and applications. The Nitobi move could boost Symbian's relevance by making it easier for Web programmers to write software that works on Symbian phones.

Symbian and Nitobi announced their partnership Monday at Oscon, the Open Source Convention. Symbian will integrate Nitobi's technology with its Web application creation tools.

The partnerships also means programmers using the PhoneGap tool will be able to aim their software more easily beyond iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile. However, the PhoneGap software is part of the Symbian Web extension package that's beyond Symbian's "compatibility promise." Thus, application programmers can't assume the software foundation will be built into a phone.