Finnish handset vendor Nokia made what appears to be a reactionary move on Tuesday morning, buying up the rest of Symbian and uniting it with S60, UIQ and MOAP.

In what some see as a long anticipated move, the world’s biggest handset vendor snapped up the remaining 52.1 per cent of Symbian that it didn’t already own, merging it with its own S60 and S40 platforms.

Analysts estimate Nokia paid out more than $250m in Symbian licence fees last year, so it makes commercial sense to buy up the mobile handset OS for about $410m, rather than keep paying a subsidy to other shareholders.

The newly created Symbian Foundation, with the backing of Sony Ericsson, Motorola and NTT DoCoMo, will also introduce an open source licence model for the Symbian operating system and the S60, UIQ and DoCoMo’s MOAP platforms.

The Foundation said it would make selected components available as open source at launch. It will then work to open source the rest of the platform over the next two years and intends to release the software under Eclipse Public License (EPL) 1.0.

Ben Wood, analyst with CCS Insight, sees the move as a shrewd response to growing threats from other providers of mobile phone software. “Over the last ten years, Symbian has grown into the dominant supplier of smartphone operating systems, but it’s being challenged by a variety of new contenders,” said Wood.

Of the main contenders, Apple has raised the bar from a technical perspective, and Wood believes that Symbian licensees need to respond quickly to its touch screen user interface, high performance and easy to use development tools.

Meanwhile, the Linux crowd, spearheaded by the LiMo Foundation, has strong support from network operators, which have been attracted by its governance model, believing they have more opportunity to influence the direction of this open source platform than with Symbian and its S60 and UIQ user interfaces. has also caught wind of further consolidation to take place in the mobile Linux space later this week.

And let’s not forget Google, which Wood notes as having challenged the commercial model, stating that its Android platform has reduced the cost of software to “close to zero”. However, rumours currently abound that the Android platform is flagging and might not appear until very late in the year, or maybe not until next year.

“If Nokia’s new approach works it could be of great benefit to the Symbian platform,” said Wood. “Wider input from network operators and chip manufacturers, as well as closer integration of the operating system and user interface should make it more stable and more attractive to operators, to developers and – let’s not forget – to consumers.”

CCS believes that the involvement of nine other companies on the Symbian Foundation’s board offers an elegant way to keep other Symbian licensees committed to the platform. And ironically, today’s move might even make Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Google’s Android look overly proprietary and dominated by a single player.