Symbian: Android for the rest of us?

by Mathew on June 24, 2008 · 9 comments

Nokia’s announcement this morning that it is acquiring the rest of the Symbian mobile operating system it doesn’t already own (about 52 per cent) and turning it into an open-source OS that anyone can contribute to and use seems like an arrow aimed straight at the heart of Android, the Google mobile effort that is still in its infancy but promises great things. Nokia is clearly threatened by the giant Web company’s plans, and has been bulking up in all sorts of ways.

Despite Google’s geek cred and the iPhone’s cool factor and the BlackBerry’s popularity in the corporate market, Symbian is still by far the biggest mobile player. It would be unwise to count the company out as a competitive threat — not because it’s going to create something as cool as the iPhone or as useful as the BlackBerry, but because having something like 200 million handsets out there running your operating system is a powerful force, and it is going to draw developers in just because of its sheer mass and size.

Imagine what might happen if Microsoft went open source — this is kind of like that, but for the mobile market. Of course, Google likely saw this coming (or at least it should have).

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  • http://www.wholemap.com/blog seemsArtless

    I agree that the sheer number of smart phones using a given OS is very relevant in the short to mid term, but moving forward it will be ease-of-development that will make or break things.

    I don't know how often people around the world upgrade their phones – every 24 months perhaps on average? If so, the existing user base is a real moving target, and doesn't really have that much invested in remaining with their existing OS when it is time to get a new phone. Changing to a new OS on a phone is way easier than changing OS on a desktop/laptop computer, and way cheaper than replacing all your DVDs with the latest and greatest technology.

    So when it is time to replace an old phone people will go with the snazziest looking phone with the most applications they think they'll need. So the faster developers can create/clone those apps the more successful they'll be.

    Sure the iPhone is pretty and has an interesting UI, but arguably the best thing Apple did was base iPhone development on existing OS X development — they've lowered the bar for developers that already develop in OS X which got the momentum going early.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Those are both good points. The upgrade cycle is definitely shorter
    (and easier) when it comes to a phone compared to a desktop or laptop
    – and I think you're also right that Apple made a smart move by
    effectively tying the iPhone and the existing Apple developer base
    together like that. Speeds up the process of development, and lowers
    the cost as well.

  • http://www.5o9inc.com Peter Cranstone

    >> it is going to draw developers in just because of its sheer mass and size.

    Nope. Not necessarily. The key for developers hearts and minds center around a couple of things – is it cool, is it hard to program (and thirdly – can I make money).

    Symbian phones are not cool, they are bloody hard to program (multiple platforms and other integration issues) plus right now how do I make money? What's the killer app?

    Nobody knows.

    Cheers,

    Peter

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks for the comment, Peter — those are definitely aspects of the
    Symbian world that will hold things back, I agree. And someone else
    mentioned how integrated the iPhone is with the Mac OS, so that
    programming for one can be leveraged to make apps for the other.
    That's something Symbian doesn't really have at all, I don't think,
    which is going to be a detraction as well.

  • http://www.wholemap.com/blog seemsArtless

    I agree that the sheer number of smart phones using a given OS is very relevant in the short to mid term, but moving forward it will be ease-of-development that will make or break things.

    I don't know how often people around the world upgrade their phones – every 24 months perhaps on average? If so, the existing user base is a real moving target, and doesn't really have that much invested in remaining with their existing OS when it is time to get a new phone. Changing to a new OS on a phone is way easier than changing OS on a desktop/laptop computer, and way cheaper than replacing all your DVDs with the latest and greatest technology.

    So when it is time to replace an old phone people will go with the snazziest looking phone with the most applications they think they'll need. So the faster developers can create/clone those apps the more successful they'll be.

    Sure the iPhone is pretty and has an interesting UI, but arguably the best thing Apple did was base iPhone development on existing OS X development — they've lowered the bar for developers that already develop in OS X which got the momentum going early.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Those are both good points. The upgrade cycle is definitely shorter
    (and easier) when it comes to a phone compared to a desktop or laptop
    – and I think you're also right that Apple made a smart move by
    effectively tying the iPhone and the existing Apple developer base
    together like that. Speeds up the process of development, and lowers
    the cost as well.

  • http://www.5o9inc.com Peter Cranstone

    >> it is going to draw developers in just because of its sheer mass and size.

    Nope. Not necessarily. The key for developers hearts and minds center around a couple of things – is it cool, is it hard to program (and thirdly – can I make money).

    Symbian phones are not cool, they are bloody hard to program (multiple platforms and other integration issues) plus right now how do I make money? What's the killer app?

    Nobody knows.

    Cheers,

    Peter

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks for the comment, Peter — those are definitely aspects of the
    Symbian world that will hold things back, I agree. And someone else
    mentioned how integrated the iPhone is with the Mac OS, so that
    programming for one can be leveraged to make apps for the other.
    That's something Symbian doesn't really have at all, I don't think,
    which is going to be a detraction as well.

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