The Symbian OS is in a lot of trouble. From executives leaving to manufacturers backing out, the future looks bleak.

An advantage that Symbian had over the iOS and WebOS was the number of manufactures making devices for the platform. There was even talk of a possible tablet on the way a few months back. All that thunder has been taken away by Android. Before Android, Symbian users had something unique. The openness, the features, the variety of hardware – all of these were things to brag about. Even the arrival of the iPhone didn’t seem to pose much of a threat. Everything changed when Android came along.

Symbian OS has more features than both Android and iOS. The hardware that Symbian devices have is also arguably the best on the market. It can support games and apps just as well as Android and iOS can – so what is going wrong? It all boils down to the UI.

S60v5 – the touch variant of the S60 software is very dated. It was not developed from scratch, instead it was taken from S60v3 and modified for touch screens. Tracing back, the S60 platform has remained largely unchanged since its inception in 2001! Very little has changed with the UI in 10 years! Now compare that to Android. Within 2 years it evolved from vapourware to lame OS all the way up to legendary OS.

Is it really all about the hardware?

Nokia thinks so. According to another report, phone development at Nokia is ruled by the hardware team. It starts there and ends there. A quote from that report:

“Bottom Line: Nokia is a hardware company that hates software.”

The latest Nokia flagship, the Nokia N8 is ahead of the game in a lot of things. The 12 MegaPixel Camera with Xenon flash and Carl Zeiss Optics, TV out via HDMI, aluminum casing and so forth and so on, are great hardware features. The 680Mhz processor though is nothing to write home about.
When it comes to apps, a few developers are making an effort (relative to the competition). Unfortunately for older Symbian devices, some of the more exciting titles, like Angry Birds, are only compatible with Symbian^3 phones, that’s the N8, C6, C7 and E7 only so far.

In order for the OS to become relevant again, Nokia (which recently took over Symbian development) needs to make a dramatic move. They need to break away from what they’ve built so far and start over. As crazy as that sounds, it may be the only way. To continue to build up on a weak UI is suicide. Nokia needs to get people excited about Symbian again. They don’t have much to lose anyway – just like Microsoft didn’t have a lot to lose in launching WP7. Nokia can take the experience they have as leaders in the mobile arena for the past decade and make an amazing platform. A platform that can ensure sales, developers, more useful apps, and thus a more powerful presence.

If the change doesn’t happen soon, it is likely that Symbian will fade into the darkness. There is what is known as an innovation curve. When new disruptive technologies emerge, it’s either you quickly jump on that bandwagon or stay put and eventually die out. The new UIs are that new disruptive innovation and Symbian seems to be headed for doom.

Innovation S Curve

Innovation S Curve

It could be argued that Palm tried but didn’t quite do it with WebOS. Unlike the Palm Pre, Nokia already has quite a following. With a new desirable offering, many users would not hesitate to buy Nokia phones because they are known for high quality and reliability. Palm also had just the Pre and nothing else. Nokia tends to release multiple variations of devices on the same platform to cater for different tastes – that strategy works.

In summary, Nokia needs to act otherwise Symbian is doomed. It may be too late. On the bright side, if Nokia does make the change, it is in a good position and their strategies are likely to succeed.