Guest post: Symbian OS – one of the most successful failures in tech history

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This a guest post by Tim Ocock who first worked at Symbian when the consortium was created in the summer of 1998. Returning in 2001, he worked in a dual commercial/technical role that necessitated almost unrestricted access to both the ‘shopfloor’ engineering teams and upper tiers of Symbian’s management. He left in 2004 to found Symsource, one of the few dev houses specialising in Symbian still in business today. He is currently Technology Director at Steely Eye Digital Media, a full service digital agency in London’s Soho, leading the webification of mobile and appification of desktop web.

Symbian is the biggest smartphone operating system by market share, the oldest smartphone platform still in use, used by almost every major OEM at one time or another. Yet one could be forgiven for thinking Symbian is dead and buried, with news of layoffs at Nokia, management departures at the Symbian Foundation and rough reviews of the latest flagship N8 device. How does a platform powering 9 million new devices every month have almost no credibility with developers, analysts and press alike? This is the story of one of the most successful failures in tech history.

To this day Symbian benefits from better battery life and lower hardware requirements than its competitors with similar features. Symbian is, arguably, the best phone Operating System there has ever been, and the original standard bearer for the smartphone concept.

But it’s no longer competing to be the best phone OS, or the best smartphone OS, it’s competing to be the best OS for internet phones. When Apple launches a new product, it might look like something you’ve seen before. But they define totally new categories, it just takes a while for everyone else to realise. Call it a superphone or an internet phone, the only platform that actually comes close to offering the same experience as iPhone, is Android. Internet phones include better web browsing, better multimedia, and apps of all shapes and sizes (and by implication ease for developers to make those apps), as well as a better UI to make all that content accessible, even at the expense of traditional phone features. They are something different from smartphones.

Symbian has never been an OS for internet phones. The Symbian definition of a smartphone was a phone with PDA functions. The browser was always a second class citizen, a third party component – Opera by default in the early days, but freely replaced with a licensee’s preferred option. Perhaps where Symbian started slipping in quality was the need, caused by the appearance of iPhone, to compete in the internet phone space too, a space Symbian thought it was in and thought it was winning without realising iPhone was something all together different. With neither enough time nor talent to make a competitive internet phone, that was enough of a distraction to let even those things that Symbian did well, slip too.

And things do take a long time when it comes to Symbian. Long before it was made open source, the platform had a well earned reputation for being hard to program. With its origins in Psion’s EPOC PDA Operating System, its peculiar form of C++ predated the ANSI standards of 1998, and in any case STL, ANSI exceptions and other features of the language in their semi-official forms were not conducive to writing lean software for battery powered PDAs. In their place, constructs such as the notorious Descriptor (like a string, but less useful) and the egregious chore of managing the memory cleanup stack, causes of both much frustration for newcomers to the platform, and Symbian’s code verbosity.

Yet the difficulty of writing good Symbian code was hugely beneficial to Symbian as a business in the early days. For many years, 80% of Symbian’s revenues were earned through consulting for licensees. Most telephony platforms today are off the shelf and Linux supports them all (because who else is going to write your Linux drivers for you if you don’t do it yourself?). Symbian’s licensees on the other hand each had their own proprietary telephony chipsets that needed to be integrated and their own customisations to the platform in mind. There was simply no incentive to provide an out of the box distribution, not until Android came along, enabling former Symbian licensees such as Motorola and SonyEricsson to put together new phones in mere weeks not years. Despite talk of Symbian enabling differentiation, the reality was licensees’ budgets were squandered on hardware porting and making the core platform fit for purpose. Both operators and OEMs alike kidded themselves that they wanted a platform they could differentiate on. In reality, Android and now Windows Phone 7 proved that to be mere lip service, that they really needed someone who knew software to do it for them.

It’s tempting to conclude then that Symbian simply chose to focus on short term consulting revenue (or had no choice to avoid going cap in hand to licensees more often), leaving engineering to deliver a half finished product. The appointment at that time of the consulting division’s accountant to head that department supports this argument. In theory changes made by the consulting teams were supposed to be folded back into the platform so it would become closer to a finished product over time. This almost never happened. Symbian attempted several times in later years, as telephony hardware became less bespoke, to address the problem, setting up teams specifically to create fully integrated distributions on various reference platforms, but usually done half-heartedly, outside core engineering and without enough resources. The leadership did not have the will to make it work.

But the consulting business was if anything just a nice side effect. The real root of the development problem with Symbian was that the APIs and tools roadmap were driven by the needs of kernel engineers and system integrators. It was not unusual to hear it spoken by senior staff that there would never be a market for after-market apps and games so why support third party developers? “Easy API” projects, to make phonecalls or send messages in less than 20 lines of code, were started and never finished. The Psion OPL language was briefly resurrected as it’s BASIC like syntax had led to a thriving third party apps ecosystem on the original Series 5. A suggestion to extend Java beyond the usability constraints and limited API of J2ME was shot down without a second thought. Each died quickly. Symbian’s engineering department forbidden to put resources on activities not authorised by product management. In turn, unlike at Palm, or Android today, there was no product manager representing the needs of third party developers.

More recently, the addition of standard C and C++ support, as well as the web runtime and even Python did at least get a dedicated ‘runtimes’ product manager. But even then, these were second class citizens on the platform, incomplete, poorly supported with tools, examples and documentation and most significantly not consistently available across all current devices. Contrast that with Android where Linux drives the core phone technology, everything else, including the application suite, is developed for the Java runtime. iPhone too uses FreeBSD at its lowest level but apps, including Apple’s, use the Cocoa developer-friendly APIs. Palm’s WebOS uses Linux for the phone and their browser based runtime for everything else.

Qt finally addresses this need but nearly 3 years after acquisition it is still unfinished. For Nokia now, the whole application suite for Symbian and for Meego needs to be migrated to Qt as quickly as possible because this will drive the discovery of new API requirements and improvements to the tools. Nokia has hundreds of developers working on Ovi Maps, successfully commoditising the SatNav market in a short space of time. But Ovi Maps is done. Those developers should be flat out on building out the whole application stack in Qt. It’s time that Qt was no longer a thin portability layer but a rich and powerful API for application development in its own right.

As for the user interface, work at Symbian for any length of time and you would have heard that “Symbian doesn’t do UIs”. So it’s no wonder every pundit has some witty comment to make about the current UI. But it wasn’t always that way. The Psion Series 5 won design awards and many remember the P900 fondly, while the UIs of Japanese Symbian devices made European phones look positively prehistoric until the iPhone came along.

By 2001, Symbian had recruited a world class design team, including experts from Apple, Psion, Ericsson and many other talented mobile UX designers. Symbian planned to build out 3 Device Family Reference Designs – Pearl for candybar smartphones, Quartz for touch screen PDA phones, and Crystal for keyboard equipped communicators. Technologies such as universal messaging (AKA visual voicemail), voice search, location sharing, augmented reality and context sensitive widgets were running in that lab years before other platforms
popularised them.

Yet having assembled this team, Symbian was suddenly forced by its owners to abandon the notion of providing DFRDs at all and adopt the “Symbian doesn’t do UIs” policy. Nokia already controlled Crystal anyway. The embryonic Pearl was abandoned (it did not, as many suppose, evolve into S60). Quartz was spun off formally as UIQ. The UI design team were mostly laid off. Internally, Symbian used the old Series 5 UI for testing with Nokia later merging this together with Crystal to make the aborted S90 touch screen variant.

Of course, with the line between S60 and Symbian so blurred, as far as the user is concerned the user experience is a Symbian attribute and again the difficulty of development can take some of the blame. S60 in particular was written in a hurry by developers new to Symbian for the Nokia 7650 and its UI API, Averell, did not adhere to the elegant design design followed by Quartz and Crystal. In the interests of backwards compatibility, bad design decisions were never fixed preventing developers from having the time to iterate and refine their UI designs or even just to concentrate on the value adding features of their apps instead of fighting the platform.

So, a UI twisted into knots resulting from bad management and technical decisions made years ago and at the root of it all a stubborn refusal to meet the needs of developers because Symbian’s idiosyncracy created customer lock-in and generated short term revenues, and to its credit, also an OS that didn’t need 1GHz processors and 512MB of RAM.

But how does Nokia fit into all this? They were often said to be pulling the strings behind the scenes. When they finally bought Symbian it was because the threshold at which it was cheaper to buy it outright rather than continue to pay license fees had been met. The open sourcing of Symbian, it could be speculated, simply made it more palatable for the other licensee-shareholders and for regulators who had so carefully considered the creation of Symbian by, at the time, some of the world’s most competitive companies. It might have made sense then since many open source companies make money through customisation and support for Symbian’s consulting division to be part of the Foundation, to take the platform in new directions – set top boxes, in-car computers. But Nokia didn’t allow the Foundation to employ any developers itself and the consulting division spent their last months cross-training onto Android.

It wasn’t Nokia’s larger share of the original Symbian that gave them so much influence either. It was their spending power. Nokia outspent the other licensees all together by something like 4 to 1 in terms of license fees for volumes sold and in terms of consulting. Of course, it wasn’t Nokia’s fault their competitors weren’t building successful devices. But it influenced the behaviour and decisions made within Symbian all the time. It was after all a business and looking after your biggest customer is good business sense.

Symbian was supposed to be an equally balanced organisation. Licensees generally played by the rules, more afraid of antitrust and losing their place in the value chain to Microsoft. Except for one. Nokia were in a 5 way game of Chess that the other players didn’t know they were supposed to be playing.

Nokia blocked inclusion of a standard camera API in the Symbian product roadmap claiming it would be years before anyone built a cameraphone, weeks before the launch of the 7650, the first GSM cameraphone. They insisted on Symbian’s adoption of Nokia controlled components, the TCP/IP networking stack, the WiFi, Location services, SIP stack for VoIP calling, and probably the worst example of this sort of tactical interference occurred with Symbian’s move to support CDMA ‘out of the box’. With CDMA technology a defacto monopoly for Qualcomm, the obvious solution would be to build the reference software stack on Qualcomm hardware. But when your biggest customer was in the middle of suing and being sued by them, it’s not so easy. Symbian went to great lengths to build in support for CDMA, even setting up a secret team in North America but with their hands tied they had to use Nokia CDMA hardware for whom the only customer was Nokia. Nokia, in turn, proceeded to cancel several CDMA devices late in the development cycle during their frequent retreats from North America.

Symbian’s unique position caught between so many competitors made it difficult to appoint experienced leaders who had not already worked for one of the shareholders who could get people working for a common goal. As Symbian grew, the visionary creators of the platform were sidelined as ‘grown-up’ industry veterans were brought in to supervise the rapid expansion of the organisation. Thus did Symbian become an organisation in which anyone could say no but no one but Nokia could say yes.

So to the future. Despite comments from their management lately committing to the open source Symbian Foundation, Nokia already maintain their own internal Symbian codeline, occasionally releasing changes to the public mainline. With no other licensees (the Japanese also forked years ago), there is no reason to keep the Foundation going. New CEO Tim Holbrow is a great guy known to everyone who ever worked at Symbian, not one of whom would have a bad word to say about him, but there’s only ever one reason you put the finance guy in charge, while a skeleton crew is all that would be required to distribute the recently won EU funding to ecosystem suppliers.

Other licensees will never return to the platform unless a huge effort is made to provide a totally off the shelf, ready to run build of the platform supporting all popular hardware platforms. It’s almost certainly too late for that now.

Qt, however, is the right strategy for the application suite and for third party developers, it just needs to be finished and soon! It needs to be core to the Nokia software operation not a fringe activity.

Analysts are starting to understand that Symbian is a platform only for phones not for internet phones. Nokia needs to continue to educate the market to remove the risk of perception becoming fact. If they do not, they remain a company with tremendous assets but depressed market cap based almost purely on perception, and therefore a prime takeover target.

The problem for Symbian itself is that Nokia already has another phone OS, the increasingly creaky NOS/S40. The indirect costs of maintaining two ‘low end’ platforms easily outweigh a couple of dollars on the BOM for the ever so slightly lower hardware requirements of S40 and that difference is only going to get slimmer. Nokia needs to ditch S40 now even though that seems like short term suicide when it’s propping up the market share. But 38% market share is not worth having if that’s the 38% of the market who buy phones which only have a 1% profit margin.

The lesson for Meego, and other pretenders to the crown is, perhaps to look after your developers with useful APIs and powerful tools both inside and outside of your organisation. Find the right balance between efficiency and ease of development. Look after all of your developers and your developers will look after you.

Tim would like to thank @dw2 for giving him his big break into the industry.

  • Dave Nattriss

    Unrelated to the subject of this post, why don’t TechCrunch EU articles have Facebook ‘like’ or ‘recommend’ buttons?

    • Steve O'Hear

      Ours have FB share, any good?

      • Callum Jones

        There’s a bit of a difference, liking something is far less spammy than sharing it in your stream.

        Also you guys aren’t using Disqus?

      • m3talr3x

        isn’t this just a case of people with business degrees making decisions that people with technical degrees should be making..

        WHERE IS DISQUS, this sucks!

  • John Pagonis

    It took Nokia about 10 years to completely destroy Epoc32 with either politics or plain bad engineering. I predict that They will do the same to Qt but only faster.

    Both technologies are idiomatic C++ platforms that were not invented at Nokia. Nokia have demonstrated that they can not deal with such tech and even more so with the engineers and knowledge that comes with them.

    Unfortunately it is never about technology.

    • Samvais

      Qt has improved rapidly since Nokia aquired Trolltech. Some good examples of this are Qt Creator, Qt Quick and Qt Mobility.

      As for Nokia’s ability to “deal with such tech”, looking at Maemo/MeeGo and Qt I completely disagree.

      • mik

        I have to do development and debugging for Symbian Qt using this framework and QtCreator. Neither of which works fine. Building takes ages, debugging mostly doesn’t work, and Qt components make strange and unexpected problems in simplest situations.
        I wouldn’t recommend this toolchain to anyone.

    • Nicholas

      When Nokia purchased EPOC, I thought the company knew exactly what they purchased. They had the future of computing in their hands and left it languish in the gutter. Was EPOC, or later Symbain, the holy grail of OS design? Never. But, it proved actually useful.

      The P900 was still in my pocket until the day the iPhone launched. Anyone with any idea of where mobile was heading soon realized that Apple sort of fixed most of the problems with designing for mobile — a store, coherent development tools; a rational platform.

      There are two platforms worthy of the name at the moment: iOS and Android. Every other will fight for air. The third is HTML. Build a damn mobile OS based on a browser interface which utilizes open source OS components and go low-end. Whoever does that will own the rest of the mobile world.

      • Joey

        Hum, webOS is just that… The new QNX from BlackBerry does the same.

      • Cheese

        “Build a damn mobile OS based on a browser interface which utilizes open source OS components and go low-end. Whoever does that will own the rest of the mobile world.”

        Pardon me, hasn’t that been done already?

  • Guest Post: Symbian OS – One Of The Most Successful Failures In Tech History | JetLib News

    […] Read the rest of this entry » […]

  • Sergiu

    also unrelated, there’s a text “got here” on top of

  • David

    It’s a great article by Mr. Ocock. It provides more technical insights than any other Nokia related news, and how management’s decision had effected the business. It sounds a lot to me that Symbian could’ve been the Android of today. And it’s also alerting that open source could never been really open when politics are involved. Nevertheless this is definitely a great case study for MBA class room.

    On a personal level, when I read “Nokia already controlled Crystal anyway.” That just straight up pissed me off because it is so true at the time that when N97 came out, I had to jump on boat to get it. This was mainly due to the image establishment of their 9300/9500 series, which was definitely a defecto at the time in its own right. The N97 however, turn out to be a POS that I thought it was Chinese shanzai knockoff, except it has $750 price tag to differentiate it. One thing Nokia had taught me was software for most of the time, should be more important than hardware (hardware as in industrial design, etc).

  • Troed Sångberg

    Regarding what to call them: Even easier, drop the “phone” nomenclature altogether. We’re talking about Mobile Internet Devices, not Smartphones :)

    Interesting writeup, indeed – I worked at Symbian/UIQ on Quartz at the time and looking back the Sony Ericsson P800 was a device far ahead of its time:

  • Mark

    The facts and the points made might be spot on, but to again go off topic, this is one of the worst pieces of writing I have seen on TechCrunch. The style is incredibly stilted. My God, I have never seen so many gratuitous commas: “The lesson for Meego, and other pretenders to the crown, is, perhaps, to look after your developers, with useful APIs and powerful tools, both inside, and outside of your organisation.”

    And constructs like this:

    “But they define new totally categories, it just takes a while for everyone else to realise.”

    Semicolon, anyone?

    Not to mention gratuitous apostrophes:

    “as it’s BASIC like syntax had led to a thriving”

    TechCrunch, you can do better than this.

    OK, I’m done wringing my hands. Time to sit back and watch someone pick out my own grammatical errors.

    • Ankur Banerjee

      Do watch this, guy.

      • Toby

        Pedantically pointing out common grammatical mistakes is one thing, and yes that’s annoying too. But this article is so poorly written that it is borderline unreadable. The fourth time I came across a sentence that I had to re-read multiple times simply in order to figure out what it was trying to convey I decided to give up.

    • Toby

      Amen. I gave up on even trying to read it. Just because it’s a “guest author” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to meet basic standards of written English.

    • Steve Davies

      You’re hearing it stright fromthe horse’s mouth and you’re complaining it smells of oats?

      IMHO, I found it extremely refreshing to hear a succinct account that places the long running, graceful train wreck of Symbian into context, made by someone with impeccable credentials for doing so.

      FWIW, I hope my use of irritating online abbreviations and inappropriate punctuation irritates you as much.

  • Garath Cheesman

    I don’t understand your comments about Symbian being not fit to be an OS for internet phones, citing browsers as being the problem. Please expand on this, this cannot be the only reason, and even if it is, how exactly is it an insurmountable one?

  • Priscella

    Small side point: I agree that descriptors are egregious, but why do you say the cleanup stack mechanism is? Its quite elegant in its way, what was the alternative at the time 16 years ago?

  • Merrick

    It’s interesting to see this insider information related, and mostly tallies with my experience also.

    However, I do disagree with the analysis that Symbian was never designed to be an ‘internet phone’ and never can or could be.

    My problem with this is that this category [Internet phone] is just an aggregation of technologies, it isn’t a technology type. Unlike, the original Palm OS or RIM’s predominant platform Symbian OS is by most measures a fully fledged operating system at a fundamental level.

    Doesn’t an ‘Internet phone’ just comes down to how well (or not) the browser experience on Symbian OS is implemented? Trying to wedge Symbian into a ‘lower category’ just seems like a retroactive convenience to encapsulate the compound managerial mistakes Nokia et. al. have made with the platform.

    Having said that, as mentioned, the major technical problem with the OS is the programming model. It was never really fit for widespread human consumption at both a application and system programming level.

  • Michael Freeman

    Great post. Thank you for the insider POV

  • Lucian Armasu

    I was always surprised by Nokia’s claims when adding together the S40 and S60 and now S^3 phones and saying they have just one platform when in fact they have 3.

    Now, THAT is true fragmentation. Android’s fragmentation is mostly an overly hyped word when 77% phones run Android 2.1 and beyond, with almost no incompatibility issues.

    • Lucian Tomuța

      Lucian, let me help you out.

      Nokia has in fact four (4) platforms: Series 30 for those very very “dumb” phones, Series 40 (not S40) for the “feature” phones, Symbian/S60 for smartphones and Maemo/MeeGo for the mobile computers segment. It may use other OSs now and then for some one-off products but let’s not count those in if you don’t mind.

      Series 30, Series 40 and Maemo/MeeGo have nothing much to do with Symbian and little (to none) to do with smartphones.

      Now, if you still want to discuss fragmentation, let me know. ;)

  • Guest post: Symbian OS – one of the most successful failures in tech history (Tim Ocock/TechCrunch Europe) | Stereo Speakers Reviews

    […] failures in tech history (Tim Ocock/TechCrunch Europe) Tim Ocock / TechCrunch Europe:Guest post: Symbian OS – one of the most successful failures in tech history  —  This a guest post by Tim Ocock who first worked at Symbian when the consortium […]

  • Ted Shelton

    My favorite part of this article is the closing paragraph, and I wonder whether anyone close to what is going on at Nokia right now can comment? Our own research shows enormously dissatisfied developers by comparison to Apple and Google…

    “The lesson for Meego, and other pretenders to the crown, is, perhaps, to look after your developers, with useful APIs and powerful tools, both inside, and outside of your organisation. Find the right balance between efficiency and ease of development. Look after all of your developers, and your developers, will look after you.”

  • Oflife

    My father loves the superb GUI on his Psion Series 5 (I think that is the model), that he has purchased 3 or 4 spares for parts and still uses one of them. The GUI, even by today’s standards, is excellent, bettering the catastrophic effort on Apple’s part on the iPhone and iPad, whose address book and calendar lack any of the common sense approach of the RESPONSIVE notebook like interface.

    Where Psion went wrong is a) Forming a relationship with a 3rd party (as Intel’s founder says, partnerships rarely work out), b) Failing to build in connectivity. Basically, they ran out of juice just as the Internet revolution began.

    Why on Earth Nokia have not copied the GUI of the Psion devices is anyone’s guess. It’s the flawed GUI on their current devices that has lead to the poor reviews of otherwise decent hardware, such as the new N8.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide

    I was at Psion when the announcement of the formation of Symbian happened. One of the execs quoted another as saying of the formation: “They will be teaching about this for years to come in business studies courses at Harvard University”.

    Shortly after the formation of Symbian, the exec who was supposedly the brains behind it all left for Microsoft! For those who were there at the time, what was the background to that then?

    • hary

      What has happened to Microsoft mobile since then?

    • Electronic Piece of Cheese

      @Hydrogen Peroxide

      Re exec leaving for MS, by which I presume you mean Juha. He was/is, no doubt, a great salesman and bringing together the worlds top tier mobile phone manufacturers was no mean feat.

      However one could argue that Nokia and the like would have gone for anyone but Microsoft, all they needed was a little nudge.

      Other execs, such as Colly Myers, Stephen Randall etc were all intimately involved in starting up the external licensing of EPOC, which ultimately led to the creation of Symbian. And lets not forget David Potter, whose gravitas made it easier for the manufacturers to sign with Symbian.

  • Roger

    While the history is interesting, this article is fundamentally flawed in it’s assertion that Symbian is not ‘an internet phone OS’. How ridiculous when not only was Symbian allowing countless millions of people the world over to get on the web long before it’s modern rivals were geek fantasies, but ALL that’s happened now is that one official app, the browser, is slightly less competitive prior to it’s forthcoming major update. That’s it! Thank goodness the author is no longer working for the company, his advice is exactly what Nokia should NOT be listening to.

    • Hydrogen Peroxide

      I have to agree, I like the article but the parts about not being capable of being an internet phone OS seems absurd – especially given the fact it states the browser is freely replaceable.

      • Roger

        It’s especially stupid when you remember great browsers like Opera Mobile (or even Mini) can be installed. His arguments are ABSURD.

        People need to face facts and think the unthinkable: Nokia/Symbian phones (e.g. most obviously the N8) beat the competition at EVERYTHING (subject of course to a person’s UI preferences)

    • John Pagonis

      Unfortunately the “brains” with telecoms background inside Symbian (that were embedded because of the shareholders) only understood ‘phones’. As a result the Psion mentality of ‘user and user data first’ that was leading to ‘internet devices’ gave way to the ‘phones’ mentality that delighted operators.

      It was circa 2000 when a certain newly arrived head of engineering turned to my team and said with characteristic arrogance “I’m not here because of this (pointing to a Series 5) but because of this (pointing to a Nokia 5110). What do you expect after that…?

      At that point my team had a skunkworks project running the Web browser on a yet unreleased port of Epoc32 (ER6) on a never released Psion Revo variant which had an embedded Bluetooth chipset. Our demo kit was connecting through our internally built Bluetooth stack to an Ericsson GPRS phone happily browsing the web.

      During the same period colleagues at 3 other companies that were using Symbian OS had integrated product prototypes that did the same on what today could be called iPhone-clones. One of them had both GPS and Bluetooth hardware as well as a colour screen. In 2000 that is!

      ..and then executives put money on WAP development as opposed to helping Psion and others release such products!

      Guess who pushed for WAP instead?

  • Michael

    Fascinating read, thanks!

  • mdelurgio

    Good info on the past. As for Nokia’s future, please just adopt Android!

    • DoYouEvenKnowWhatYourTalkingAbout

      Here we go, another glib remark about how Nokia should switch to Android.
      Back up you statement with reasoning and facts and logic if you have any.

      • artsrc

        Would you prefer a decent Android phone or anything from Nokia? I think the poster is saying he would prefer the Android device.

        I have a friend with the Nokia high end smart phone, and he regrets his decision quite alot. It’s not just the apps, the Nokia crashes etc. The ones with Android and iOS are quite happy.

      • David

        Android would only provide short term revenue for Nokia. By having their own OS, Nokia will retain control on a lot of different levels. And that’s common practice for many big corporates. Nokia with its assets and size knows it better than anyone else.

        You can also argue that to an extend, any company would want to monopolize the market. And best way to do it is to come up with a good OS, or become good at convincing people that your OS is good.

        I’m sorry for your friend, as I was a victim of N97. But as far as business analysis goes, you need to see the bigger picture.

      • mdelurgio

        OK then:
        – Nokia has failed to evolve their OS rapidly enough to stay competitive and they don’t have the leadership nor the developers to turn it around
        – The mobile world doesn’t need 6 OSs. For app developers, the cost of developing for each platform is prohibitive. For web developers, the OS doesn’t matter that much (unless it is Symbian, where the browser is antiquated)
        – The mobile world is trending to standardization, just as the pc/workstation world did through the 70’s/early 80’s. Again, more OSs is not a good thing for the market, and there will be few (or, 2 (iOS, Android)) OS winners.
        – Nokia makes pretty good hardware – it’s their software that is antiquated.
        – They are positioned better than anyone to make low end smart phones to sell to the developing world, thus protecting their market share.

  • Bob

    I thought one of the most successful failures in Tech History was going to be an article about the HP purchase of Compaq, or even their recent purchase of Palm. What up?

  • Desmond

    What does “lower hardware requirements” mean exactly?

  • Desmond

    Towards the end of the article, it seems to be saying (unless I’m misinterpreted) that its not really much additional overhead to maintain both Symbian and S40.
    If that’s the case then why go on to say that S40 must be ditched immediately? Its contradictory.

    Why ditch S40, why not ditch Meego? (I’m not saying Nokia should, but its surprising there’s no analysis of Symbian versus Meego in this piece when there is for S40).

    • Charlie

      Symbian is a dedicated mobile phone OS, which over time has acquired support for applications.

      MeeGo is a general purpose OS that happens to come with a phone application.

      • Merrick

        Don’t be silly, go look up the history of EPOC32/Symbian.

      • Charlie

        Symbian is a great mobile phone OS – what do you disagree with?

        MeeGo on the other hand is a mobile computing OS that comes with a phone app.

        I’m not criticising MeeGo btw which I think is great – I have it running here on my N900 – but MeeGo is a completely different beast to Symbian (the poster wondered why there was not comparison of Symbian vs. MeeGo).

      • Desmond

        Which applications would those be?
        I seem to remember its first commercial release in 1997 containing calendar, contacts, word, paint, spreadsheet, with email following very shortly, and from then on a whole plethora of others following quickly.

        And it began life as a dedicated PDA OS.

      • Merrick
      • Charlie

        You are talking about EPOC, I’m talking about Symbian. The latter may be derived from the former, but it’s changed a lot since EPOC days (different and updated kernel for a start).

      • if

        Symbian was a general purpose OS, with app support from the start, that happened to have ‘phone’ functions added to it.

        Licensee Symbian phones all used different phone apps- they weren’t a core part of the platform.

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  • WulfCry

    To be honest after EPOC I though Symbian finally would go the right way and sour after developers. When Symbian made it as open source it was like a trend following up to the open source thing and a good thing to be Symbian got an impressive developer groups although apps then where still scattered.

    Symbian phones had it coming in a sense higher end devices where sold to a specific user market where it was still a PDA nicely covered up with a colorful moderate high resolution screen and UI.

    Each and every step on the way for Symbian where long and tedious fragmented every bit of improvement where put into high end devices while smaller cheap devices got a bit of that glancing the brand as if it had improved.

    Needles to say everything about Symbian was F*cked up messy with no sense of direction and that fragmented mess turned Symbian into a dinosaur.

    Why did Symbian became less of an O/S while the PDA market changed and died slowly things like music , camera , network you name it, It never benefit the market at hand as a solution mostly due the merits of the development front API’s mobile java got to be serious deficit. Let alone the hardware. Then what happened the Nseries came to be to expensive and to late to focus the change that where underway. By that time the Iphone came to be the differences put by this device was not only the hardware but the way the software cleverly put everything behind an intuitive UI design simply telling visual story.

    Something with Symbian killed it half way the hardware the UI or lack of good developer support.

    Its an capable O/S one would imagine that it could do the same thing as an Iphone or Android phone does needles go figure.

  • patrick

    Great article and very poorly written.

    My 6th grader writes better English than this !!!

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