Nokia ditching Symbian for Maemo, German FT reports

Nokia doesn’t trust its Symbian mobile operating system any more and plans to equip many of its smartphones with the mostly open source Maemo operating system it uses in its Internet tablets, according to undisclosed Nokia sources speaking to the Financial Times in Germany  (FTD).  The Finnish company completed acquisition of Symbian just four months ago. So guys, that was €264m well spent.

FTD quotes a source close to Nokia saying: “Symbian is much too cumbersome to keep up with modern operating systems. We have to react.” Nokia hasn’t provided an official response; a Nokia spokesman only said that they don’t comment on industry speculation. But this is clearly dynamite stuff. If it is true, it would actually be a smart move; the investment in Symbian hasn’t yet borne fruit, and Nokia is steadily losing market share to former niche players RIM and Apple, and soon Android.

A first device, the Nokia N900 or “Rover” is expected for Amsterdam’s Maemo Summit in October 2009.

The FTD names Symbian’s old code as the reason for its poor performance. The software is based on Psion’s Epoc OS which was developed in the 90s. Symbian now consist of 20 million lines of code, that’s nearly as much as Windows XP has. Experts say that new central functions are very difficult to implement. This explains why Nokia needed so much time to come up with a touchscreen competitor for the iPhone.

The Nokia N97 from June 2009 required heavy tweaking on the Symbian software. It’s touchscreen OS still looks aged and the handling is far from easy and not always logical. Another pain for Nokia is Google’s Android OS. Devices like T-Mobile G1 and HTC Magic are selling very well. The HTC Hero with its Palm Pre like Sense UI is expected to be incredibly popular device  which Nokia will struggle to compete with. Only Nokia’s hardware with strong batteries and good cameras is still an advantage.

Since June it’s obvious that Nokia has bigger plans for Maemo. They have announced a strategic relationship with Intel to “shape next era of mobile computing innovation”. The effort also includes “technology development and cooperation in several open source software initiatives in order to develop common technologies for use in the Moblin and Maemo platform projects, which will deliver Linux-based operating systems for these future mobile computing devices”.

Nokia wants to make the former geek OS a “mainstream platform”, said Maemo manager Quim Gil in July on a developer summit in Gran Canaria.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Nokia makes an acquisition just to throw it away. In the last four years Nokia spent billions to buy companies like Intellisync,, Loudeye, Twango, Enpocket, Oz Communications, Gate5, Starfish Software, Navteq, Avvenu, Plazes and Cellity. Navteq alone cost $8 billion but it’s difficult to recognize a strategy in this buying frenzy. The mobile company solution from Intellisync, which cost $430 million, has been discontinued after three years and sacrificed in favour of Microsoft’s Mail for Exchange.