Symbian vs. Memo? – Some Thoughts

This week, the Financial Times Deutschland ran an article that Nokia is about to "change its strategy" ("Strategiewende") concerning their use of smartphone operating systems, that "they are loosing faith" in Symbian ("verliert Vertrauen") and are about to "abolish" ("verwerfen") Symbian in favor of Maemo.

Tough words which are immediately followed by the statement that in the future, Nokia will equip "many" of its new phones with Maemo. To me that doesn't quite sound like abolishment or loosing faith but more like continuing the path of working on more than one operating system.

The article only cites internal sources so it's difficult to verify the claim or the spin of the article. Other news websites have picked up the story (e.g. here, here and here) but I don't quite believe it yet.

Here's how I see things:

Something is going on behind the scenes at Nokia concerning their smartphones and I am not quite sure what it is. The innovation in the smartphone sector Nokia has so long driven with their Nseries range has notably slowed down. I have my Nokia N95 for almost 18 months now, and I am still waiting for a successor. Neither an iPhone nor the N97, that has just started shipping recently, are what I'm looking for. From that point of view, the speculation is understandable.

But the latest Maemo device, the N810, was released in the same timeframe as the N95, back in 2007. So Nokia has definitely not really pushed that OS with new hardware either. There are rumors of a new Maemo device to be released shortly, but I don't think that this is a change of strategy or loosing faith in Symbian.

The FTD article says Symbian is old, has 20 million lines of code by now and is difficult to extend. I would hold against it that Maemo, which is based on Linux, has probably similar complexity and Linux itself is not much younger either. But it's open source and well known by programmers which are two formidable advantages over Symbian. Symbian is going open source, too. How much that will draw programmers to it, however, still remains to be seen.

An advantage of Symbian over Maemo is it's integration of 2G and 3G network stacks, something Maemo does't have for any hardware with which it was released so far. On the other hand that seems to be something that can be overcome, as shown by Google's Android, which is based on Linux as well. 

Also, a change from Symbian to Maemo would not solve Nokia's challenges concerning platform popularity and an encompassing ecosystem such as a popular web store, synchronization to web services or to a PC, etc. These aspects have nothing to do with the operating system running on the mobile device itself.

The article further says that Nokia is loosing smartphone market share. After many years with little competition, I'd say this is not really surprising with strong competition coming from several directions now such as RIM, Apple and Google. That's not something that could be fixed by changing to another operating system.

But market share is not everything. I'd rather have a smaller market share of a big market than a big market share of a small market. I don't have the numbers here, so maybe someone can help me out with this, but I think there's a fair chance that with all the attention of companies with good products other than Nokia on the smartphone sector, the number of smartphones sold are probably increasing.

So without further facts I can't quite go along with the message of the FTD article that Symbian is going to be ditched. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Symbian vs. Memo? – Some Thoughts”

  1. I’m totally with you on this. Something is going on and Maemo is likely to be in the new strategy but there’s no reason to drop Symbian. Nseries is the new mid-range smartphone. Maemo could be something for the MID-focused crowd. E-Series clearly continues with Symbian based on the news from Microsoft and Nokia today.

  2. In my view Symbian suffers from major architectural flaws which make it the wrong choice going forward.
    Symbian was conceived pretty much at the same time as Palm OS and with the same basic principles in mind: creating a lightweight OS, fast and stable, with requirements for very few applications ( calendar, phonebook…) and for gray scale display.
    Both Symbian & Palm OS were very good as doing so. But it occurs to me that with handheld devices becoming more of a tiny computer that must support similar environement (high definition screen, complex applications, multi tasking…) Symbian should have been redesigned from scratch rather than trying to stretch the limit of what can actually be done with this basic OS.
    I am personally using a Nokia E66 and the software is crap. Once you have installed and removed few apps then it become extremely slow, the screen freeze, the web browser crash…. it is a nightmare.
    Nokia cannot survive the competition of Android, Microsoft & Apple without rewriting the core of the OS using a similar architecture as competitor.
    I have been saying this for 3-4 years and I am still surprise that Nokia is not moving faster.
    Keep Symbian for low hand and use a new generation OS for high end (Maemo or other, I have no clue if Maemo is any good actually).

  3. What is it with these people. Nokia would not have spent all that money acquiring Symbian Ltd just to stop using it. They could’ve done that without the buyout and saved themselves a few hundred million $$$s. They are not Apple, they can well afford to have a strategy that includes 2 (or even 3) mobile platforms, and indeed it’s worked in the past. Their stated reason for buying Trolltech is to try and address the problem of cross-platform development. They wouldn’t have done this just to not bother. Again, they could saved a whole load of $$$s
    We will likely see Maemo gain some more prominence in the product portfolio over the coming years, as now Nokia don’t have to worry upsetting the Symbian Applecart buy releasing Maemo based telephony devices, and starting exactly this sort of ill advised, and frankly shortsighted commentary. That could’ve killed Symbian Ltd stone dead. And after the investment Nokia made over the years, that would be very bad business strategy. Don’t you think?

  4. I was recently at the O’Reilly OSCON in San Jose, and Symbian was there. They made the point that they were NOT Nokia, and they are hiring in Silicon Valley. They are also pitching their access to the app markets of India and China. So, if you want to sell your mobile app to low end handsets in those markets, you need to seriously consider Symbian.

  5. Hi Chris,

    yes, Apple for the moment only seems to address the “high price” market for the moment so India and China are probably not in their focus at the moment. Android/Google on the other hand could very well appear on lower-priced devices shortly, I keep watching HTC and Moto.

    Thanks for commenting!

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