The Real Symbian Problems

arstechnica.gifArs Technica are reporting that Nokia’s CTO Rich Green has said "It’s all about the applications" and that "Symbian handsets failed to deliver a large homogeneous installed base–despite shipping in enormous volume—because the platform suffered from too much fragmentation."

Coincidentally, Rich Green’s comments that Symbian failed to deliver (apps) is backed up by very recent research by Millennial Media… 

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While iPhone’s low share is probably due to the particular question asked and the fact that many people already develop for the iPhone, the Symbian low share is due to something else. Rich Green says "fragmentation". I am not so sure.

If you develop an app for an early version of Symbian (S60 3rd, Symbian 9.1), it’s almost guaranteed to run on all S60 phones shipped in the last few years. I think blaming fragmentation is a bit lame and an excuse to promote Qt. Instead I think the main problems with Symbian have been…

  • Failure to realise the potential of app stores. I talked about this lost opportunity as long ago as 2007, before the iPhone App store existed.
  • Failure to create a compelling UI as good as, if not better than, iPhone and Android.
  • Failure to communicate between Symbian (Ltd and Foundation) and Nokia. Both sides created new features that were not passed back.
  • Failure to simplify development. I talked about this in 2005, well before Nokia bought in Qt. While this has been started with Qt, it’s far from complete. It might be said Qt is overkill and over-ambitious. All Symbian needed was something more friendly (e.g. libraries) on top of Symbian.