The End of Symbian for 3rd Party Development

nokia.gifToday, Nokia announced that they will have just one platform (Qt + HTML) for developing on Symbian and MeeGo phones. With recent news that Samsung and Sony Ericsson have no plans for future Symbian handsets, Nokia have also re-evaluated their use of Symbian. 1800 jobs will go, 1200 of which are Symbian related. Symbian will no longer be a development option for 3rd parties.

Concentrating on just Qt has some advantages…

  • Reduced costs for Nokia in supporting the Symbian ecosystem (signing, tools, support, Nokia forum support)
  • It allows for a common platform across MeeGo and Symbian. It also allows Nokia to quietly phase out Symbian as an underlying platform (if they wish) and introduce a new platform (if they wish) provided they create the appropriate runtime.
  • Apps written (in Qt) today will continue to work on future phones based on Symbian and MeeGo. Unlike previously, there’s no wait for Symbian^4 nor compatibility break when this arrives.

Problems I can see…

  • Nokia has been working on Qt for a long time now and I still don’t consider it fit for commercial use. As long ago as last year, I commented that Qt wasn’t fit for commercial use. There still aren’t enough phones shipping with the runtime. Consequently, apps currently using Qt can be a disaster. Also, the currently recommended Mobility APIs (to access phone features) are still beta. Hopefully these problems will be solved with (more) time.
  • It’s very difficult to make a framework functionally complete, especially when you are trying to support more than one underlying platform. We were originally told that about 10 to 20 per cent of developers would have to dip into the Symbian native APIs to get the functionality they want. Dropping Symbian will mean the dumbing down of apps and some apps might not get written due to missing APIs. However, dumbed down APIs haven’t stopped Apple having success (some things my clients have previously wanted to do haven’t been possible) and Windows Phone 7’s slimmer programming support don’t seem to be an issue for Microsoft.
  • I also wonder what will happen when phones end up having dependent runtimes/libraries that are out of date. There’s a potential compatibility nightmare here, similar to that which haunted AppForge for many years.

It’s interesting that Symbian will become much like Windows CE is under Windows Phone 7 and Linux under Android. It will continue to be used as a phone OS but not by 3rd party app developers.