Symbian plus Android: So You’re Saying There’s a Chance!

Lately there’s been a lot of chatter about an operating system merger made in tech echo chamber heaven: Symbian plus Android.

Most recently my colleague over at the Storage Station recounted a conversation between himself and Nokia Forum Director Tom Libretto that called to mind a familiar movie scene. So you’re telling me there’s a chance!

Symbian is the popular mobile operating system developed by Nokia and others, the exclusive rights to which Nokia recently purchased from its partners before pledging to release the OS under an open-source license.

Android is the still-unreleased open-source Linux+Java mobile operating system that Google has been assembling to form the guts of the magical, years-salivated-over GPhone.

Hang on, did you notice that both of the sentences above include the phrases “open source” and “mobile operating system”? Oh man, these guys would be CRAZY not to merge, right?

Wrong. Here’s why:

1. There’s nothing to gain. The overlap between Android and Symbian must be close to 100 percent. How do you merge two completely distinct operating systems? The Android+Symbian chatter is akin to arguing that Windows and OS X could plausibly be merged. The work required in ripping out parts of each system to make way for overlapping bits from the other system would take forever, and what would be the point?

2. Symbian is NOT an open-source operating system–at least not yet. Open sourcing an operating system takes a long time. Sun announced plans to open source Solaris in 2004. It took a year for Sun to release some of its code under the OpenSolaris banner, and it wasn’t until this year that Sun released the first truly ready-to-use incarnation of OpenSolaris. And even the 2008 incarnation of OpenSolaris isn’t billed as production-ready.

Android is already late. There’s no way that Google is going to hold up Android for four months, let alone four years, to wait for Nokia to dot and cross its IP i’s and t’s, and do so for nothing.

Now, just because there’s a million to one chance that Symbian and Android might merge doesn’t mean that Nokia and Google can’t collaborate on the mobile OS front. Both Symbian and Android could greatly benefit from a measure of application platform standardization–different systems that run the same apps, perhaps with Java as a common language between the two systems.

Am I wrong? Does a Symbian/Android merger have a Lloyd Christmas’ chance in Aspen of occurring?