Mobile technology should not be about cramming the office into your pocket but a way to enjoy your everyday life.

Nokia + Symbian = Same old?


Nokia today said it would become the sole owner of Symbian, buying out Ericsson, Siemens, Samsung and Panasonic. In reality, Symbian has been very Nokia centric for quite some time already so this move is not surprising.

More surprising is Nokia's intention to make Symbian open source trough the Symbian Foundation. This is clearly a pre-emptive attack on Google's Android project, the open source Linux based operating system for cell phones that will be put to use in the first cell phones later this year.

An important question needs to be answered: is Nokia successful because of Symbian or despite of Symbian?

Symbian has been around since 1998 and is based on Psion's EPOC that was made for PDA's in the late 1980s when processing power and memory were much more limited than today. Much has been done to modernize Symbian but a common complain from software developers is still that Symbian tries to be resource friendly and "light" by putting a lot of burden on the software developer. In contrast, more modern competitors such as Android seem to be much simpler to use for developers and simply designed for the kind of mobile devices we have today. Apple has also created a lot of interest in their iPhone trough a very impressive looking and easy to use software development kit (SDK). Developers are claiming they can make mobile software in weeks for the iPhone that used to take months for other mobile operating systems, ie Symbian.

Symbian has a lot of historic luggage and design decisions that made sense a decade ago but no longer - such as having several different and incompatible graphical user interfaces (GUI) for different vendors. Simply adding the ability to switch between landscape and portrait mode in Nokia's Series 60 GUI for Symbian broke all existing applications. Nokia now intends to unify the user interface, but developers might ask why they should learn yet another Symbian implementation when they could just dump the historical luggage and jump on the Android or iPhone bandwagon and get a genuinely modern platform.

Will Nokia be able to modernize Symbian enough to keep it alive? Even Nokia made use of Linux, not Symbian, when they created their N800 Internet tablet -series.

How much of a following Android will get is still unclear. Android might also create new competition among hardware manufacturers - allowing yet unknown manufacturers to start selling their own phones. There are plenty of capable electronics companies in China that can make cheap and feature rich devices and now they have a free and capable operating system they can install in their devices. Many of these companies are today manufacturing handsets for Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson but tomorrow they could be selling their own line of Android phones.

Nokia likes to point out that Symbian is used in 60% of the worlds smartphones, but Symbian is only used in about 5% of the worlds mobile phones. Android could be used in all kinds of phones, from the cheapest no-name phones to the most advanced known-brand -phones and grab a huge market share.

Apple has generated a lot of attention with its iPhone but they can not grab much of a market share with a single high end phone model. They can, however, ruin the party for Nokia by grabbing a noticable share of that premium high-end market where a lot of money is made although the number of handsets sold isn't that high.

Does Symbian have what it takes to crush the competition? If it had, I think we would have seen it already - and we have not. We have only seen an operating system that looks tired and old compared to iPhone and Android.