Symbian^3 looks mighty interesting: multi-desktops, multi-touch, NFC, HDMI, HD video, song recognition and more

By now, everyone who cares, knows that major user interface upgrade is coming in Symbian^4, sometime at the end of 2010/beginning of 2011.

Until then we’ll bee stuck with the old and tired Symbian^1/S60.5 UI, that we’ve seen on the phones like Nokia 5800, Nokia N97, Samsung i8910 HD and Sony Ericsson Satio. Or so I thought.

Given the way people in the know talked about Symbian^2 and ^3, I was under the impression that they are just some sort of interim releases, with some significant improvements under the hood, but not much impact on UI. Well, I was wrong.

Although most of the cellphone vendors, except for Japan, are skipping Symbian”^2 release, the UI improvements from it   are tricklin into the already available handsets. That kinetic scrolling, improved performance, etc; that you’ve got from v20 upgrade to Nokia N97 firmware – they are part of Symbian^2 release. I really hope, these features reach S60.5/Symbian^1 phones like Satio and Omnia HD soon too.

And improvements in Symbian^3 will be much bigger. Some of them were revealed yesterday, during Nokia Capital Markets Day, others were explained in a language even I can understand by Victor Palau, from release management team at Symbian Foundation.

Symbian3 features

So here’s a summary of the most interesting UX related improvements, we are getting in Symbian^3:

  • Support for multiple home screens – I really like to have  multiple desktops on my smartphone. With the amount of widgets, bookmarks and shortcuts I like to use, single homescreen is just not enough. This should help to solve that problem on Symbian phones. I just wonder how many desktops will be allowed.
  • Support for for multi-touch and capacitive touchscreen displays. Myself, I do not care that much about both of those. My Nokia N900 works perfectly well with resistive touch and no multi-touch. Still, there quite a lot of people who wouldn’t think of buying a phone without them, so this helps.
  • Significantly reduced clutter, user prompts and single tap navigation – just what the doctor ordered for Symbian phones. The usage and navigation complexity on Symbian devices is one of the most frustrating things, compared to other modern smartphones.
  • 3x faster UI performance, scrolling increased from 15 to 60 fps – One of the main beefs I have with current Symbian^1 handsets, is those slow responses and lag I get when performing certain operations.

Each of those improvements individually promise to make Symbian^3 phones, better and more interesting. All of them combined, let’s me expect some seriously cool handsets from Nokia, already next summer, instead of early 2011.

Other interesting features for Symbian^3:

  • QT 4.6 integration, ensuring forward app compatibility with Symbian^4 and beyond. This was another doubt I had about Symbian ecosystem for 2010. With major compatibility breakdown coming in Symbian^4, why should  anyone new start developing for Symbian now? Well, it seems that your apps made with QT for Symbian^3 handsets, will work on later Symbian and Maemo versions too. With QT4.6 available already, now seems like a good time to start looking into that.
  • HDMI output, HD video (support for files over 2GB) – not sure what the HD video encoding/decoding will do to the battery power, bout sounds nice anyway.
  • Song recognition and music store integration with radio app – those who liked TrackId feature on Sony Ericsson Walkman phones, should love this one.
  • CalDAVsupport -Support for caldav in single and multiple calendars (SUN)
  • Integrated NFC – Near Field Communication capabilities. The promise of the good things that NFC could bring, have been with us for years now. Unfortunately, nobody has been able to make it work yet. With tens of millions of devices getting NFC capability in a couple of years, maybe things will start moving finally.

Well, that’s most of the user facing features that are coming Symbian^3, and they are coming pretty soon now. With first Symbian^3 handsets promised for late spring/summer of 2010, I would have expected some major Nokia announcement at Mobile Wolrd Congress in February.

Unfortunately, Nokia will not be exhibiting at MWC 2010, so I would expect to hear officially about new Nokia Symbian^3 handsets around April, next year. With leaks about some of them, starting in a month or two.

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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