Symbian is getting totally awesomely open
When I look at the way Symbian Foundation and it’s employees talk in public about the development and future plans of their platform, I am constantly pleasantly surprised.
Symbian Foundation is pretty happy to tell everyone around, that right now they are just a small new star-up. And, despite the fact that they own the biggest smartphone OS on the planet, shipping in more then a 100 million devices a year, they seem to act like it.
If you look at all other major mobile device platforms, and try to find out about their future plans, roadmaps or even when we can expect the updates, you get nothing.
Of course, the owners of the platforms probably talk to their partners and developers, and, inevitably, things tend to leak. So we know, that Windows Mobile 7 is coming sometime next year, that it will probably include multi-touch, support for capacitive touchscreen displays, high requirements for the hardware, and may have Zune services integrated in it. We know, that Android 2.0 is coming, maybe next month maybe in Q1 2010, it will be more “social”, and we’ve seen some screenshots of it. But that’s about all we know about the platform upgrade, that will be released in a few weeks. And we know the the next iPhone OS upgrade will have …, wait, sorry, we do not know crap about it.
And when I say “we know”, I mean that we’ve heard rumors, saw leaks and hints about possible features from company execs, and report on those we think are true. But we actually do not know anything at all about the future of those mobile platforms.
Well, with Symbian we already know the approximate dates, and key features of major platform releases up to 2011, with tons of technical details available to those who care and understand them. So we already know that there is huge compatibility break coming in Symbian^4, when they replace platform UI, sometime in late 2010/early 2011. And we even may hear what’s coming in Symbian^5 (for 2012 devices) next week.
Another difference in a new Symbian, is how their employees talk to the press.
Reporting on this stuff for a few years, you get a feel of what you can and can not expect when talking with someone from the company on the record. Lower level employees are mostly allowed to only troll the official company PR line, basically the stuff you read in press releases, and not much more. Higher level company execs might be trusted to expand on that a bit, and hint at some cool things to come in the future. And you never ever talk much about competitors, if asked, you may acknowledge their products a bit, but then quickly move on to extolling the virtues of your own stuff.
Well, that is different at Symbian too, where, whenever I tried, quite a few people were ready to explain about the things I wanted to know. Heck, when they think that you don’t really get something you wrote about, they might proactively seek you out.
And then there was this short Lee Williams interview with Om Malik this weekend. I haven’t had this much fun watching company CEO interview in a long time:
Dissing Apple, openly taking Android to task… oh my. You can tell that even Om was shocked at the openness, asking Lee whether he knows that they are recording this. LOL
I can’t say that I agree with everything that was said in the interview, but it certainly is refreshing when you are used to deciphering the usual big corporate speak and obfuscation. I really like the approach Symbian is taking in communicating their own message.
Though, whether this translates into a business success, remains to be seen. I do not buy into the Symbian’s demise story, permeating most of the tech and business media these days. In fact, I am very optimistic as far as Symbian’s market share and device volumes go, in the next few years.
On the other hand, most of the Symbian’s success outside of Japan to date, has been achieved on the back of Nokia. Which might have been a blessing before, but soon might become a curse, hindering Symbian’s adoption by other vendors, if it continues to be seen as Nokia’s OS.
And so far, I’ve yet to see some clear signs, that Symbian is on the way of stepping out of the Nokia’s shadow. While other vendors are flocking to Android and even lowly Windows Mobile, Symbian gets ignored. This year ,we already have something like 30 new WinMo devices announced, and about 20 Android handsets are coming. Aside from Nokia, Symbian has … two. Sony Ericsson Satio and Samsung Omnia HD i8910.
Granted, Symbian is still in transition to open source. And they admitted earlier, that OS ^1 and ^2 versions are not really meant for the new adopters, and, for now, is best to those who already has the experience of working with it. So it might be too early to hear about any significant adoption wins. There’s also that major touch interface revamp coming in Symbian ^4, so things should get much more interesting as we move into 2010.
I expect to start seeing some signs of that already next week, when Symbian hosts their main event of the year – SEE 09. I will be there, looking for those signs and report back.