Good bye Symbian?

Posted by in 1, OEM

First, Samsung announced it would drop Symbian from its smartphones in 2010 in favour of its new, home-brew bada OS. Then Nokia said it would drop Symbian (albeit not immediately) from its flagship N-series devices replacing it with Maemo, the OS that premiered on a Nokia device on the recently released geek dream, the N900.

It is said that there are

no current plans for Maemo devices in the [...] X-Series range or the popular [?] E-Series enterprise range

but the word “current” suggests that this might well change soon, too.

This would leave Symbian without its two largest OEM supporters. Will there still be a future for it?

Symbian of course boasts a still very impressive number of legacy devices, and it will therefore be here for a while. However, what does the long-term outlook look like? Android, LiMo, etc all “boast” a nimbler, more agile set-up, allowing for faster development and, arguably, better user experience. This is not necessarily Symbian’s fault (it carries with it its legacy around) but it makes it that much harder for it to reinvent itself.

I am not sure if there is place (and – timewise – the runway) to reinvent itself without the backing of big OEMs. I would be surprised if carriers would use it; they – even more than OEM – require adaptability and customization, which the newer platforms seem better suited to serve. Vodafone’s choice of LiMo for their first two Vodafone 360 devices is testament to that.

The ever-bright Tomi Ahonen suggested a comparison with DOS/Windows and MacOS: he compares Symbian to DOS, Maemo to Windows and iPhone to MacOS: MacOS led in UI and leads to this day. DOS outsold MacOS in spite of its dramatic inferiority because of the legacy instal base. Windows then overlaid DOS and rolled out on all the legacy devices with MacOS, as a result, always playing second fiddle despite its superiority.

The market place in mobile looks different though: DOS was nigh dominant (outside the mainframe and large enterprise side of things) whereas Symbian “only” covers about 5% of the current market. It is big but probably not big enough to bridge the DOS/Windows migration gap. With Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, LiMo, JavaFX (if that ever takes of properly), etc all on the map, too, the situation is very different to the DOS/Windows/MacOS world. Would Nokia be quicker in execution, I might still look at it differently but, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be that way.

So is it good bye, Symbian, then?