To be clear, Symbian Horizon is not an application store in itself, although it could be described as a meta-app-store as it provides its content catalog to other application stores. Rather it should be seen as publishing program, which works in a similar way to the book publishing or console game industries. As such, Symbian Horizon works 'with developers to create a single point of management and distribution to the largest group of mobile consumers worldwide'.
Aside from placement in partner app stores, developers participating in Symbian Horizon will gain access to a number of services that help reduce the barriers they face in taking their products to the consumer. For example, this might include technical assistance in getting an application running on a wide-as-possible range of devices, application certification (this ties in with the ongoing efforts to evolve the Symbian Signed process), language translation services and marketing opportunities (e.g. participation in Symbian events, advice and co-promotion).
The underlying thinking behind Symbian Horizon is for Symbian Foundation to help grow the application ecosystem.
“Our goal is to encourage robust application development, increase revenue and application diversity in mobile stores, and improve the consumer experience – all for the greater benefit of the mobile ecosystem,” said Lee Williams, Executive Director of the Symbian Foundation. “And we can help North American developers reach markets in Asia and Europe where the Symbian platform is widely known and loved. We are building a self-sustaining ecosystem that will drive the next generation of mobile and developers that join now are aligning themselves with the future of mobile.”
The Symbian Foundation will not charge any commission for participation in the Symbian Horizon program. There is no profit making angle, as Symbian regards the program as an investment in making a strong ecosystem. Symbian do note that in the future Horizon may introduce optional benefits, which may carry some cost. However, as a general rule the intention would be to only pass along the direct costs of such benefits.
I spoke to Shaun Puckrin, Head of Developer Services at the Symbian Foundation, who made clear that there will be an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. The hope is that Symbian Horizon, as a publisher, will be associated with high quality and innovative applications. Symbian Horizon is open to all, ranging from large companies to individual developers and open source projects and will accept both commercial and free software. Currently freeware and open source software currently faces significant barriers in reaching the market due to signing and other requirements. It is anticipated that Symbian Horizon could be a significant channel for such software in the future.
The program will begin to roll out with a number of launch partners later this year; Symbian will be taking note of the lessons learned in the initial period as it broadens to roll out in 2010. Symbian will scale the program over time, and there will be varying levels of participation, with associated varying criteria such as degree of signing and support. Symbian does intend to define the participation levels such that the program is as broadly available as possible. More details of this will emerge in due course.
Symbian is currently in discussions with seven application stores with regards to participation in Symbian Horizon. It has already initiated agreements with Ovi Store, Samsung Application Store and AT&T MEdia Mall.
Here's an extract from the press release:
"Symbian Horizon will further complement Ovi Store in cooperation with our global developer community, Forum Nokia, to discover the best quality apps and make them available for Nokia consumers around the world," said Marco Argenti, VP of Media & Games at Nokia. "We are keen to leverage the advances in the Symbian open source community to provide developers with the best tools to build the best apps and experiences for Nokia devices."
“I expect that Symbian developers to have broader opportunities to reach consumers at the Samsung Applications Store thanks to Symbian Horizon. We welcomes a valuable effort of Symbian Foundation and will support Symbian Horizon to provide benefits of total eco-system partnership in the industry.” said Yong-suk Moon, Vice President and Managing Director of Samsung Electronics Research Institute based in UK. “Samsung is an early member of Symbian Foundation and has contributed for consumers to have more advanced and exciting mobile experience.“
"As a founding member of the Symbian Foundation, AT&T is pleased to support Symbian Horizon and sees this as a wonderful opportunity for mobile developers, operators and handset manufacturers to collaborate together and reach a broader market," said Rob Hyatt, Executive Director, Mobile Content and Applications at AT&T. "Both MEdia Mall and AT&T's recently announced support for Ovi Store by Nokia will use Symbian Horizon to source smartphone applications which are a growing part of our portfolio.”
Horizon is on schedule for general availability in October 2009. More information is available on the Symbian Developer web site, including a form, through which developers can register their interest in participating in the Symbian Horizon program.
For developers, Symbian Horizon represents a very positive step forward, as the Symbian Foundation seeks to take a greater role in evangelizing and growing the mobile application ecosystem around the Symbian platform. Symbian Horizon is an ambitious attempt to address many of the barriers currently standing between mobile application developers and money.
Furthermore it has the potential to become an important part of the 'innovation engine' driving the Symbian platform forward in the future.
Clearly, much will depend on the practical details, and there's no guarantee of a successful implementation, but the announcement of Symbian Horizon is an encouraging first step.