Google vs. Symbian

Google vs. Symbian

The Symbian OS(operating system) has been around for years with Symbian v9 being launched in 2005. That was around the same time that Android was acquired by Google, only to be announced some time in 2007 and released on the G1 in 2008. I’m going to cut to chase here, Android is over-hyped and that is probably it’s greatest weakness.

The whole idea of these mobile phone operating systems like Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android, made by software companies, is to accelerate time to market and reduce development costs. Silicon makers also tailor their chips for these OSs based on their capabilities/features, so it’s easier for phone manufacturers to develop devices with these popular OSs.

Now the deal with Android is that there’s a lot of hype surrounding it. Hype that promotes laziness on the part of phone makers to a point where it’s okay to just slap the stock OS as it is, untouched. When looking at the line of Android devices, you can’t help but notice that they are extremely similar. That’s because of this hype factor; people are happy enough with a device just because it has Android because Android is ‘cool’. On the other hand, HTC does try to put a lot more effort on their Android devices with their Sense UI, but that’s only HTC. The hype-effect goes beyond just the user interface – hardware-wise Android devices haven’t offered anything new. Many people expected the Nexus One would be a revolutionary device. It has powerful hardware and… that’s about it.

For Symbian, it’s a different story. Manufacturers are forced to come up with not only innovative software, but innovative hardware as well to compliment it. When you think about it, almost all Symbian devices have custom interfaces. Samsung has the clever Touch Wiz UI which is spreading to other platforms, the Sony Ericsson phones, the Satio and the Vivaz have custom UIs with the Vivaz taking advantage of the accelerometer with it’s animated wallpapers. Nokia also has the panel of widgets for its user interface on the n97 devices.

When it comes to innovative hardware, the S60v3 Samsung i8510 was the first to market with an 8MP camera and the S60v5 Satio was the first with a 12MP and the s60v5 i8910 was the first touch screen phone with an AMOLED display just to name a few. There are also many custom applications that manufactures build in to their Symbian devices so that they are better and different. Take the Omnia HD for instance. It has a custom search feature, music player, communities social app, podcasting app, custom handwriting recognition, custom camera interface, thorough codec support,  custom media gallery, business card reader, Samsung LBS navigation and integrated DSNe 2.0 technology for better audio just to name a few. It’s packed right out of the box. When it comes to features, Symbian devices set the standard; they paves the way for other platforms to follow.

So, what did Android bring to the table for mobile devices? Nothing. It’s just another mobile operating system but with the backing of one the biggest and most creative companies around, Google. This could be the reason why people get excited; when Google is behind something, they usually do it very well. Unfortunately, there’s a heavy reliance on stock Android to do everything, making the product makers relax on creativity and focus on just releasing that ‘Android device’.

I like to think of Symbian vs. Android like the image below created by @Mad_Geek. Android devices pretty much have stock Android on them whilst a whole lot is done for Symbian devices making them more complete out of the box.

Android vs. Symbian

Android vs. Symbian

For this reason I feel Symbian has a more solid future.

Whilst there has been one version of s60v5 since November 2008 when the Nokia 5800 was released, there have been several Android updates each with key/core features included. Unfortunately, most of these updates have not been made available to all Android devices. Generally, Android devices are not updated from one release to another, users are pretty much stuck with the version they buy their devices with. Problem with this is that Android is evolving very quickly. After just over a year, Android is already in version 2.1 which is miles ahead of what it was in version 1.0 on the G1. Early adopters miss out on a lot of really cool features that should have been on board in the first place. An interesting post on Engadget entitled “Will Android Fragmentation Destroy the platform?” highlights these issues. Many Android devices at Mobile World Congress 2010 were running Android 1.5 or 1.6 and there are some compatibility issues between this and the latest Android 2.1.

On the other hand, most Applications that can run on the Nokia 5800 can easily run on the i8910 or the Satio without a hunch because it’s the same OS, same resolution. All the essential features were built in to Symbian s60v5/v3 years ago and those that were left out or didn’t exist are built on top of it, something that seems difficult to implement on Android.

Other issues with Android include: no access to mass memory for applications, meaning that larger, more proper games and applications such as those seen and ported to Symbian are simply not possible on the devices(without hacking that is). Google has said an update will be coming to rectify this but most Android users won’t get it unless the upgrade is made available for their devices, an unlikely case for most. For now users have to ‘root’/hack their phones to enable this.

In conclusion, Android is over-hyped and that creates problems for the people who buy in to the hype and get Android devices. It still has a long way to go and it’s future has not been clearly mapped out. It’s not as open as we would like it to be, there are lock downs on some Google services which form the core of the platform making the whole situation a little fuzzy. It also uses custom APs for app development which can be frustrating for developers. Together with a few other issues, the hype is uncalled for and people need to stop going crazy just because a device has Android, it isn’t all that…yet.

Symbian is a fully open and solid platform. It’s greatest weakness is the dated user interface which was designed a while ago. The future of Symbian looks bright with the integration of the Qt framework but more needs to be done to keep up with the competition. The platform requires more development time as competition to deliver something innovative and different is high. That’s a good thing for consumers because we get devices like the i8910, the Satio, the Vivaz and the n97 which are awesome in their own respects and glimpses of what we will see in the future on other platforms.

Update: Everything has changed

Here is the follow up a year on.