Device operating systems

Nokia Takes Back Symbian

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) says it is moving Symbian Ltd. away from an open-source licensing model and will now distribute the software itself to "approved" parties.

The move comes two months after Nokia announced Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Windows Phone 7 would be its operating system of choice for most new smartphones it sells. (See RIP Symbian & MeeGo: Nokia Ties Future to WP7.)

Nokia says there's life left in Symbian, vowing to ship 150 million more devices based on the OS and introducing the Symbian-based Nokia Astound, destined for T-Mobile US Inc. , at International CTIA WIRELESS 2011. But by tightening its grip on the Symbian source code (and flip-flopping on what "open" means), Nokia will be challenged to fulfill its promise. (See CTIA 2011: Nokia Astounds With New Smartphone.)

They say
Nokia said it's nixing open-source so that it can continue working with the same Japanese OEMs. Most likely this means Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), which uses Symbian for feature phones.

"It's extremely unfortunate that this model will effectively prevent Nokia's Symbian code base from going off into the sunset as an open project that can be repurposed by the remaining Symbian enthusiasts," ArsTechnica wrote in a recent post. "It's also disappointing that Nokia doesn't seem to care anymore."

It's worth noting that Nokia does plan to continue to update the OS. Tomorrow it will make an announcement focused on Symbian's future. Jyske Markets analyst Robert Jakobsen tells The Wall Street Journal that the announcements Nokia makes tomorrow could be more crucial than Nokia's earnings release later this month. The company has to convince potential customers that the Symbian operating system is still alive and kicking, he said.

That will be a tricky task given that Nokia is making it harder to access a platform that's still receiving criticism for its user experience. Nokia may be showing off its flagship E7 on Tuesday as it plans a belated European debut with Three UK UK. The carrier previewed the device, sporting a new Symbian UI and browser claiming to be three times faster than the OS's old one, in a video posted today. (See Nokia Delays & OS Plays and Nokia's Flagship E7 Delayed in the UK?)

Engadget reviewed the device, however, and had less positive things to say about the OS running on it: "Symbian breaks what is otherwise great hardware," the site states noting that it is a "frustrating user experience" and that the Webkit-based browser has "stagnated into oblivion over the years, and is now a complete mess."

We say
Symbian has a tough, and potentially very short, road ahead of it. New research suggests it may lose nearly all -- or at least most -- of its market share by 2015. With all eyes on how Nokia implements WP7 in future devices, Symbian is going by the wayside. If all we hear out of Nokia tomorrow is that its already-delayed E7 is shipping in London, it'll be another nail in Symbian's coffin. You can read about the myriad challenges Symbian is up against below:

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:08:00 PM
re: Nokia Takes Back Symbian

I get the impression Nokia is giving up on Symbian. It's counting on the low end to sell 150M more Symbian devices, but relying on what used to work for it won't work with this segment either. We'll see what they have to say tomorrow.

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 5:07:57 PM
re: Nokia Takes Back Symbian

What if Nokia uses Symbian just as a feature phone OS and Windows as its premium smartphone OS?

That sounds okay to me. Also, I wonder to what extent Symbian is more well-liked outside of North America than Windows? Just a theory.

melao2 12/5/2012 | 5:07:54 PM
re: Nokia Takes Back Symbian

It is too bad that nokia didn't invest in a nice UI for Symbian. The OS is rock solid, and the E7 can accomplish more things with its 600mhz processors than many Android devices with 1GHz processors.

But again the UI and browser are awful.

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