10 Things You Should Know About Symbian

For such a massive player in the mobile operating system world, London-based Symbian Ltd. is relatively unknown outside of Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)-savvy circles. Now that the Finnish phone giant has snapped up the 50 percent of the operation that it didn't already own, Unstrung thought it was time to hip you to things about Symbian that you might have wanted to know but were just too jaded to ask. (See Mobile OS Wars: Nokia Snaps Up Symbian.)

1. Symbian is big
How big? The firm has around a 65 percent worldwide share of the mobile phone OS market. Nearest rival Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) trails Symbian with about 12 percent of the market. More than 200 million phones have shipped with the Symbian OS on board.

2. Symbian is old
The OS vendor has been doing this for 10 years almost to the day (that's 70 in dog-years). The company was incorporated on June 24, 1998. It is now on version 9.5 of its operating system, which has a code-base of around 400 million lines.

3. Symbian luvs Nokia
The Nokia S60 interface is the most popular variant built on the Symbian platform. The open-source Symbian Foundation is expected to pull together the different interfaces that have developed on -- and some say fragmented -- the operating system. (See The Future of Mobile Open Access.)

4. Symbian has roots
The Symbian OS has its roots at Psion (now Psion Teklogix Inc. (London: PON)), a British handheld computer company once considered -- snicker -- as the U.K.-equivalent of Palm Inc. Psion was started in 1980. Psion, Nokia, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) started Symbian as independent company in June 1998, using the EPOC OS as the basis for a phone operating system. The first phones using the OS shipped in 2000. For its part, Psion sold its Symbian stake to Nokia in 2004. (See Nokia Buys Symbian Shares and Nokia Closes Symbian Deal.)

5. Symbian craves security
Symbian is seen by security wonks as the smartphone platform most likely to be targeted by viruses and worms. (See New Mobile-to-PC Worm Arrives and More Mobile Malware.) Which is merely the usual price of being OS boss -- just ask Microsoft.

6. Symbian lives off royalty
Symbian makes an average royalty of ₤4.10 -- that's just over US$8.00 -- on each unit its OS ships on. More than 18 million Symbian mobile phones were shipped to consumers worldwide in the first quarter of 2008, according to the firm.

7. Symbian is hard to value
Can the world's leading mobile OS company really be worth under a billion dollars? This is certainly what Nokia's payment of $411 million for the remaining 52 percent of the company suggests. John Forsyth, Symbian VP of strategy, didn't want to go there when Unstrung asked him about that on a conference call this week. "I can't comment on the valuation," he said. (See Symbian Wants the World.)

8. Symbian has applications
Over 1,400 freeware programs, 5,500-plus developers, and countless commercial applications, with an average selling price of $20.35, according to the Symbian developer site.

9. Google runs on Symbian
Facile talk about Symbian taking on Android aside, Google search for Nokia phones provides a much more likely glimpse into the future:

Google last updated its Symbian search app in February and is unlikely to ignore such a vast pool of potential users of its wireless applications. (See Symbian vs Google .)

10. Symbian is sexy
Kinda. The company has a very similar name to the Sybian, a very popular sex aid heavily promoted by Howard Stern, as Unstrung discovered while researching this piece. [Ed. note: Riiiight.] The word "Symbian" itself, as far as we can tell, doesn't actually mean anything.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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