The Symbian Foundation plans to launch a publishing platform later this year aimed at helping developers to get their programs into mobile application stores.
Unlike some of the other popular mobile phone platforms, Symbian does not intend to have a central store. It will instead support existing Symbian stores, some of which are hosted by operators and phone makers. With the new Symbian Horizon platform, developers will be able to publish their applications into a centralized catalog from which the various stores can choose applications to sell.
“It's a way to shepherd developers through the process of getting signed, tested and submitted to the 26 different stores that are out there today,” said Larry Berkin, head of global alliances for Symbian.
The Horizon program will also aim to help developers market their applications. That component is still in the works, but it might involve including certain applications in TV or print ads in conjunction with the marketing of a device, Berkin said.
“Typically developers have a stronger technology than marketing bent, so we're trying to help them out,” he said.
Horizon will also help developers translate and localize their services for other markets. That feature may be particularly interesting to U.S. developers, since the bulk of Symbian phone users are outside of the U.S.
A handful of developers have gone through the Horizon program and Symbian is now inviting others to register their interest in the program. The program is expected to be open to anyone in October.
Horizon will replace the current Symbian Signed process for certifying Symbian applications. That program will remain in place until Horizon is generally available.
While Symbian is still the number-one smartphone operating system worldwide, mainly due to Nokia's use of the software, competitors are quickly gaining momentum. The iPhone, Palm Pre, BlackBerry and Android platforms have programs to support developers and publish their applications to centralized stores. Microsoft is also ramping up a new store that will serve applications to Windows Mobile phones.
One of the few organizations currently working through the Horizon program is National Public Radio. Symbian approached NPR, inviting it to be a premium participant and offering to donate the developer resources to build the application, said Robert Spier, director of content development and mobile operations for NPR Digital Media.
NPR was interested in the offer for a couple of reasons. Online, a high percentage of NPR's audience is outside the U.S., but NPR has yet to attract an international audience that listens to it on their mobile phones. “This is a great opportunity to reach out to that audience through Symbian,” Spier said.
In addition, the process of developing for Symbian seemed daunting. “Symbian would have been a complicated one to navigate on our own because of the different manufacturers with stores, and the certification process would have been complicated for us,” he said.
Because Symbian is doing a lot of work for NPR, it's hard to know if the new Horizon program will solve that problem, he said.
NPR is also building an application for the iPhone as well as another platform that Spier did not want named, and which has also offered to develop the app for NPR.
Symbian has at least one advantage over the iPhone platform, however. “One thing in particular we are very excited about with Symbian thus far is the ability to 'background,' ” he said. That means people will be able to let the NPR audio run while using other applications. That's not possible on the iPhone.
The Symbian Foundation was formed last year after Nokia bought out the remainder of Symbian and pledged to make the software open source.