Symbian on the rocks as Williams departs

The Symbian Foundation issued a cursory statement late on Tuesday announcing the immediate departure of executive director Lee Williams for personal reasons, fuelling speculation about the future of the organisation.

If the industry gossip at the Open Software in Mobile  event taking place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday this week is to be believed, the Foundation is in serious trouble. One speaker even suggested that the Foundation’s closure could be imminent.

The Foundation has not offered further detail on Williams’ departure. It said that  Tim Holbrow, who formerly held the position of CFO, has been promoted with immediate effect.

Since the official launch of the Symbian Foundation in April 2009, which marked a complete change in direction for the business – the adoption of an open source software strategy and moves to distance it from Nokia – it has been dogged by speculation that all is not well.

David Wood, one of the platform’s old guards – he was an employee of Psion back in the EPOC days and a co-founder of Symbian – left the Foundation under a cloud in October 2009, just as the SEE show kicked off. This year’s show takes place in about three weeks time, although its future looks a little uncertain.

One high profile speaker at the OSiM show told that Williams had failed to move S60 forward in his previous position overseeing the platform at Nokia and has been made the fall guy for Symbian. Another said he understood that the Foundation would close its doors inside three months due to cashflow problems.

Martin Garner, director of mobile internet at analyst house CCS Insight, who chaired the OSiM conference said that Williams was a strange choice to lead the Foundation because he had run S60 for the previous five years at Nokia and many of the issues that needed to be addressed by the Symbian Foundation resulted directly from S60: “A large part of the Symbian difficulty was his fault,” Garner said.

The Foundation took a gamble with its rather wacky and obtuse branding – the sheep on the unicycle and the big yellow heart – which may now come into question, with the platform lacking support across the vendor community.

Sony Ericsson and Samsung have both called time on Symbian-based product development, leaving only Nokia with products and plans to speak of. This is a worrying situation for an organisation seeking to pitch its platform  against the likes of Android. As one OSiM speaker noted; the only option now is for Nokia to consume Symbian. “That is what they should have done in the first place, rather than take Google head on,” he said.

On a more positive note, the OSiM session on MeeGo, Nokia’s Linux-based smartphone platform, was well attended and it seems there are high hopes for the platform. It has been noted, however, that Nokia is taking rather a long time to bring product to market.

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