iPhone panic spurs Nokia to dump Symbian on high end
August 26th, 2009
Daniel Eran Dilger
Nokia will abandon the Symbian OS on its high end smartphones and instead roll out new Linux-based devices in a fresh bid to take on the iPhone, according to advanced reports on next week’s Nokia World event in Germany.
.The move, reported by Reuters, casts a shadow on Symbian’s future. Nokia currently sells both low end “feature phones” running its proprietary, embedded Nokia OS and higher-end smartphones based on Symbian.
Until recently, Nokia co-sponsored the development of the Symbian operating system in a partnership with other phone makers including Sony Ericsson and NTT DoCoMo. Particularly since the release of the iPhone, the independent company that maintained Symbian has posted regular declines in licensing revenues.
Last year, facing competitive pressures from RIM and Apple as well as a new threat from Google’s free Android platform, Nokia bought out its partners and announced plans to set up the new Symbian Foundation to steward the development of Symbian as a free open source project in the model of Linux and Android.
Nokia sells the vast majority of Symbian OS phones on the market, and recently signaled efforts to step up its game to make Symbian more competitive with RIM’s BlackBerry in the enterprise by announcing a partnership with Microsoft to deliver Office apps for Symbian.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire
Observers noted that Microsoft’s support of Symbian was curious given that the company doesn’t market mobile versions of its Office apps for any other platform apart from its own Windows Mobile. Supporting Symbian certainly won’t help Microsoft move Windows Mobile into Europe and Asia.
On the other hand, a variety of efforts by phone makers to build high end flagship Windows Mobile phones that could compete against the iPhone, including Sony Ericsson’s XPERA X1 and Samsung’s Optima, have been dropped in favor of new Symbian models, such as Sony Ericsson’s Idou and Samsung’s new OptimaHD.
Additionally, with global sales of Windows Mobile phones now falling behind Apple’s iPhone, Microsoft has good reason to find an alternative mobile operating system that will enable it to stay in the smartphone market in some fashion. While Symbian is a competitor, it threatens Microsoft much less than the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, or other Linux platforms.
Symbian: Free as in Craiglist Ad
However, the high profile migrations from Windows Mobile toward Symbian makes Nokia’s own intention to move away from Symbian on the high end even more interesting. The lack of interest by Nokia in its own operating system also casts doubt upon the viability of the Symbian Foundation to deliver a future roadmap for competitors, for free at Nokia’s expense.
The collapse of Symbian, which just a few years ago dominated the smartphone market worldwide with more than 80% market share, would open up half of today’s existing smartphone market to the voracious appetites of Apple and RIM, and could also help pave the way open for Google’s Android platform, which has gained vocal support from Motorola and even HTC, the company that has built 80% of Windows Mobile devices.
The move to dump Symbian is not entirely unexpected for Nokia. One Symbian developer described it as “a very bad and uninspiring OS even from a programmers point of view,” and reported that even Nokia’s high level senior executives privately regarded it as “a piece of [expletive] OS.”
Since 2005, Nokia has developed the Maemo Linux distribution for use in its Internet Tablet devices; the company is widely expected to use the same software in its forthcoming smartphones.