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The Future of Symbian: An OS in trouble

Posted on Nov 23, 2010 by in Mobile, News, Symbian | 5 comments

The Future of Symbian: An OS in trouble


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.

  • brower

    But i will not be sur­prise if some­day Nokia announces that will release Android Phones. (Ok, they said that will never release it… but we know that in the “money” world and with all prob­lems that Nokia is hav­ing, we can’t believe in every­thing that we read).

    Cheers! :P

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  • Anphase

    That would be awe­some, and maybe that’s the best option right now. Android is alright in people’s minds, Sym­bian is not. Instead of try­ing to fix the UI issues, it would take lit­tle effort to jump to some­thing that’s already tried and tested.

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  • Shiva

    Will never hap­pen.
    It’s like telling to Pepsi to start mak­ing RC cola.

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  • Carl Zeiss

    Nokia cant aban­don sym­bian and they cleasly they wont either (meemo com­ing but nokia still focus­ing on symbian)

    would you aban­don your mum and dad just beca­suse you think some­one else’s is bet­ter?
    sym­bain still has the largest world smart­phone share. and S^4 ui ele­menst and fea­tures are com­ing soon in near updates.

    so far my n8 is every­thing i need its com­plete free­dom and noth­ing wrong with it
    qt is help­ing the new sym­bain get good apps faster and the nokia’s make my app com­pe­ti­tion apps will soon come aswell. :)

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  • Madcap369

    Could you please pro­vide a ref­er­ence for this image? It is one of the best depic­tions of the S curves I have seen. Where is it from?

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