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?