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Nokia launches Ovi while Symbian launches...nothing

Symbian has a huge amount of promise, nearly all of which it seems to be squandering as it allows its competitors and partners to outdo it in mobile.

Lost in the news that Nokia has finally released its Ovi application store, akin to the iPhone's App Store, is what this means for Symbian, the world's most widely used (and most easily overlooked) operating system for mobile devices.

Symbian, as an open-source operating system, should be mobile developers' darling. Instead, it continues to be an afterthought.

Symbian has been talking up its open source plans for roughly a year now, plans that should put it at the heart of an iPhone-beating application store. But that hasn't happened. Instead, Symbian has stood on the sidelines as Apple's App Store goes from strength to strength and even Google, whose Android platform is still in its infancy, entices developers with its Android Market.

Symbian, through Nokia's Ovi Store, ostensibly now has its own store, too, but it's branded by Nokia and will help Nokia far more than it helps Symbian (not the least reason being that the Ovi Store apparently doesn't distinguish between Java applications and Symbian applications).

Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of mobile open-source leader Funambol, suggests that Nokia may struggle to make its Ovi Store pay, given that it's a hardware company at heart. I'm sure this is true, but it overlooks the larger issue: why isn't Symbian launching an application store, rather than Nokia?

I asked Capobianco, who gave a very reasonable response: Symbian already has its hands full:

Symbian is busy. I do not think they have time to breathe: trying to pull a full open source operating system is not an easy thing. Imagine building cloud services (like an application store) at the same time. No chance.

It's a good point, but not one that will likely placate members of the Symbian community, who have been clamoring for a Symbian application store for some time, but with little response. Symbian's David Wood suggested in December 2008 that it would take time to unleash its full power, but he may not have the time.

Symbian seemed so far ahead of the game when it announced in June 2008 that it was going to open source its software. Since then, it has apparently been heads down delivering on that promise.

Unfortunately, the world keeps moving, and Symbian risks getting left behind.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.