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.

Stay tuned.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • Tok

    Nice interview with Symbian CEO Lee Williams.

    Symbian and Windows Mobile are the two falling phone platforms. That is, they're rapidly losing market share. Symbian has a bit over 50% of the worldwide smartphone market. That's still huge, and gives it some falling space. It can afford to fall a bit more, as it works to add more features, and still be big. This gives Symbian a good chance of a turn around.

    On the other hand, Windows Mobile, which used to have over 20% of the market, has now dropped to just 9%, which I think is an unrecoverable position. It has no room to fall further, but it must as it suffers interminable delays to bring out its next version 7 operating system. I think the combination of low market share plus further delays puts Windows Mobile into a death spiral. The article says that some vendors are “flocking” to Windows Mobile. That may be so, but at 9%, the public has firmly rejected it.

    On the other hand, Android is rising exponentially. Maybe Google is evil, as Lee says. On the other hand, maybe people actually like using Google's cloud services. It seems the public want the interface of iPhone. Android is doing well, as it creates an interface similar to what iPhone is doing. Symbian really needs to create a similar interface. Quickly. I hope it can, and I hope it does well.

    I would have liked the interview to ask Lee Williams about Nokia's other OS… Maemo. Nokia seems to be putting its energies towards Maemo, making Symbian look like a lost stepchild. Maemo will give customers an iPhone-like interface. Maemo can also leverage some existing Linux software, reformatted for a smaller screen. What does this mean for Symbian? Or maybe there's room in the market for both.

  • Staska

    In Symbian's case the meaning of those market share losses is greatly
    exaggerated. There were only 3 smartphone OSes 2 years ago: Symbian, WinMo
    and Blackberry. Smartphone market was (and is) a small niche of cellphone
    market. When your small niche starts growing rapidly and new players enter,
    it's only natural for established players to lose share. How else can
    newcomers get in there? Especially for a player with dominant 60-70%
    position, with no monopoly type lockins (like MSFT in PC).

    And Android's exponential growth is rather overhyped for now. Yes, I believe
    it will be successful, but will it be as successful as hyped right now,
    nobody has any idea. We only have a single datapoint to measure Android
    growth from so far – G1/Dream sales in Q4, 2008. And it is very easy to
    project exponential growth from a few hundred thousand devices sold.

    We still have to see how Android devices being launched right now will do in
    the market. Yes, there is interest among consumers in Android devices, and
    it might be rather strong. But while Android phones currently on the market
    (G1, Magic, Galaxy, Hero) might have been selling well, none were a runaway
    hit like the iPhone. I'm not sure any of them beat Nokia 5800 or even N97
    in monthly sales. And the number of vendors/carriers releasing handsets
    with the new OS does not mean that much. Just look at Windows Mobile.

    Regarding Maemo, Nokia's position is that Symbian the only platform for it's
    smartphones. For new type of devices like Nokia N900 they have developed
    their own OS. Symbian will get a major interface update, and QT app
    framework (the same Maemo will start using in Q1 2010) in Q4 2010 Symbian^4.
    From then on (as everyone keeprs promising, though I still have some
    doubts), the apps written in QT will work both on Maemo and Symbian devices.

  • a

    easy on the commas

  • a

    easy on the commas