Nokia Puts the Leash Back on Symbian
In a move the cellphone giant characterized as reaffirming its commitment to Symbian, Nokia has taken over development of the platform. Symbian, still technically the most popular smartphone OS in the world, has been losing significant market share in the face of competitors like Android and iPhone. The Symbian Exchange and Exposition 2010 in Amsterdam will go on this week as scheduled.
After watching its Symbian smartphone devices lose ground in the global market for several straight quarters, Nokia has moved to cut its losses by shrinking the scope of the Symbian Foundation.
On Monday, Nokia announced that it will take over development of the Symbian platform from the foundation.
The foundation will devolve into a legal entity responsible for licensing software and other intellectual property such as the Symbian trademark.
However, the Symbian Exchange and Exposition 2010 in Amsterdam will go on as scheduled on Nov. 9 and 10, the Foundation said.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Though Symbian remains the world's most popular smartphone OS, it's been losing significant share over the past several quarters to devices running on Apple's iOS and Google's upstart Android operating system.
IDC's figures for the third quarter of 2010 show that the worldwide smartphone market has grown nearly 90 percent year over year. Nokia is still the world leader in terms of units sold, but the average selling prices of its devices have been falling and its market share keeps on shrinking, IDC said.
Meanwhile, Apple's iPhone and a variety of Android handsets from several different manufacturers are there to take up the slack.
Nokia's decision to take over the reins of Symbian app development from the Symbian Foundation may foreshadow the eventual disappearance of the platform.
"This is a clear reflection of Symbian's inability to compete against other smartphone operating systems," Chris Hazelton, a research director at the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider. "Nokia will be the only company using Symbian going forward, so there is no need to have a separate organization working on development."
Nokia has reaffirmed its commitment to the Symbian platform.
The Symbian Foundation did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Symbian's Slow Boat to Oblivion
Nokia will not make significant investments in Symbian or pay it much attention in the long run, Hazelton predicted. While it will continue to offer mid-range smartphones on the platform, "MeeGo will be the future for Nokia," Hazelton predicted.
MeeGo was formed in February through the merging of Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo mobile operating systems. It uses the Qt application development environment, which lets developers write apps once and run them across multiple devices.
Nokia has already said it will use the Linux-based MeeGo OS in its flagship N-series platform.
Even though there are still phones in the works that are slated for Symbian, such as the E7, the platform's future doesn't look especially bright. "Symbian will slowly be phased out as Nokia pushes MeeGo into its full range of smartphones over the next few years," Hazelton opined.
It's the Vision, Folks
Symbian's possible demise might be the result of missteps Nokia's leadership made over the years.
"They came up with the Qt platform, which was supposed to let developers port apps to both Symbian and MeeGo, but it seems to me this created fragmentation in the development environment, and we all know how critical the development environment is right now," Maribel Lopez, founder and principal analyst at Lopez Research, told LinuxInsider.
Back in 2008, Nokia had taken over the 52 percent of Symbian it didn't already own and set up the Symbian Foundation to lure application developers, then-CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasuvo announced. The idea was to challenge iOS and the then-nascent Android operating system.
However, "the direction they were going in didn't seem to be where they were going to go, and now they have new management, and I think you'll see a lot of changes in Nokia in the next three to six months," Lopez explained. "I hope it's only three months because things move so fast in this industry."
The reduction in the Symbian Foundation's role follows Nokia's appointment of former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop as its new president and CEO.
"Nokia was trying to shake up the culture a bit and, also, it's very much a software game right now," Lopez said.
No Pill for Corporate Heartburn
In hiring Elop, Nokia emphasized the executive's experience in the software industry. However, Lopez fears the Finnish phone giant may have misplaced its bets.
"Stephen was a very unusual choice," Lopez pointed out. "One, culturally, he comes from a very different background than Nokia; two, he's not been in the mobile space; and three, the company he came from wasn't having much success in the mobile space," she added.
"In the short term, Nokia will continue to lose market share in the smartphone space," the 451 Group's Hazelton predicted. "Nokia needs to invest heavily in MeeGo, but there's not much not evidence that it's doing so."
Nokia must deliver "strong smartphone offerings that can integrate with devices powered by Intel and running the MeeGo OS," Hazelton suggested. Such devices would include tablets, laptops and in-vehicle computers.