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Symbian says can keep half of smartphone market

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The world’s most popular smartphone operating system, Symbian, aims to retain its lead in the increasingly crowded market by focusing on easing the use of its the software for developers and users.

Britain's Symbian has lost market share in recent years to new entrants like Apple AAPL.O and Google GOOG.O. But David Wood, one of the leaders of the Symbian Foundation, a consortium of companies in the mobile sector who use Symbian software, said he expects to stop that trend.

“Symbian has a great chance to retain the leading position. We should have the ability to keep 50 percent of the smartphone space,” Wood told Reuters in an interview.

“The focus in the short term is on building a vibrant community, to make developers really satisfied,” he said.

The London-headquartered foundation aims to have one billion devices running its operating system in 3-4 years time. It said in February Symbian was in more than 250 million phones.

Smartphones are seen as a bright spot in the shrinking cellphone market this year, with some analysts forecasting above 30 percent market growth for phones with advanced capabilities like e-mail or Internet browsing.

STIFF COMPETITION

With the focus in the maturing cellphone market shifting from hardware to software, the competition among operating systems has heated up.

“The operating system market today is crowded, probably too crowded. Everybody sees the potential of this space,” Wood said.

Google's Android operating system has won strong support in the mobile industry lately, but a number of Linux variants are also keen to bolster their position in a market led by Symbian, Research in Motion RIMM.O, Apple and Microsoft MSFT.O.

So far, 150 firms have joined the Symbian Foundation, which inherits intellectual property from Nokia NOK1V.HE and other former shareholders of smartphone maker Symbian. Around 50 more companies are expected to join soon, Wood said.

Nokia bought out other shareholders of Symbian last year, and committed to give all its software to an independent foundation, which will develop it on an open-source basis, meaning all members can freely use and adapt the code.

“The move to open source is a key part to lower the barrier to entry,” Wood said.

The list of foundation members includes Chinese handset maker ZTE 0763.HK, with its rival Huawei HWT.UL set to join shortly. Both firms are known for their aggressive pricing to win market share.

Getting Chinese vendors on board could take Symbian to the mass market, as its takeup thus far has been hampered by the high price tag of smartphones.

Nokia has also started to take Symbian to lower price levels. Symbian is the only operating system Nokia has used in its smartphones. (Editing by Lin Noueihed)

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