As mentioned before in the press release Jay posted, and has been rumored in the blogosphere for quite a while, it seems that Nokia and the Symbian board have taken a decisive step towards improving the Symbian OS, speeding up time to market, improving developer and OEM relations and at the same time cut out some of the bureaucracy that has held Symbian development up for so long. This move was hinted at when Lee Williams stepped down from the Symbian Foundation as executive director and was replaced by Tim Holbrow (former CFO) with rumors circling that winding down operations would commence imminently. It seems that such a guess was not far off the mark.
I’m certain that a large percentage of people in the blogosphere are now shouting at the top of their voices that Symbian is dead, Nokia is down the toilet and are doomed and that Symbian has no place in the smartphone market (Engadget commenters are truly remarkable no?). But I’d have to respectfully say that they are patently wrong. Below I’ll outline a few of the reasons why this change has happened and what the future may/may not hold for Symbian development in light of current news.
One of the most telling statements concerning Symbian development were the announcements of Sony Ericsson (SE) and Samsung, that they were discontinuing Symbian development and had no plans for the continued support and/or production of Symbian devices. Looking at those two announcements in a vacuum one might be inclined to think that two of the three major OEM supporters and Foundation contributors (not dissing Fujitsu here) had withdrawn from an OS that was seemingly about to fail miserably.
Looking at the situation in context however, yields a starkly different story. Having tracked code package submissions to the Symbian Foundation from the fledgling days of S^2 & S^3, I’d yet to see any significant contributions of code by either company. While that’s not to say they didn’t provide any monetary support, the fact that the entire idea of the foundation was to distribute work amongst large companies with significant resources in the hope of faster iterating the OS than any single company could possibly achieve. Unfortunately for the Symbian Foundation, this was not to be, and Nokia has and will continue to contribute the VAST majority of the code.
Worse still, Android came along whereby OEM’s could get a free ride in essence, contributing little if any code, little if any monetary support while getting an OS that they could basically flash onto the base hardware provided by Qualcomm and run with it. While that’s not to say that this is a “bad” approach, in some ways it leaves the OEM’s at the mercy of Google’s whim and provides no real benefit, in the long term at least, for OEM’s looking to differentiate, grow profits significantly and control their own fates.
Android also had the benefit of provided an app store that integrated directly into the OS in the form of Android Marketplace, something that Symbian had categorically lacked before 2008. When Nokia came out with the Ovi Store in 2009, it became clearer still to all OEM’s involved with Symbian that not only could they not compete with Nokia in terms of hardware costs, reliability and scale, but they also couldn’t compete in terms of value added services to Symbian OS. Worse still, Symbian Horizon, which would have been the go-to application repository for Symbian applications for all OEM’s, failed spectacularly leaving Samsung and SE high and dry with regards to added services, through no fault of the Symbian Foundation of course.
NB. Symbian in it’s base implementation comes without mapping applications and application stores
Having realized that there would be no financial benefit in sticking around, both companies decided to jump ship to an OS where all the work was done for them and they simply needed to toss an OS on some hardware and meet some nebulous requirements concerning the use of Google services and market and they’d be just peachy.
The second most telling statement made was by Nokia where they said that they had no intentions of sticking to the large-scale generational changes to the Symbian platform formerly known as S^3, S^4.x , S^5 etc and that they would be sticking to continuous, smaller scale improvements to what they would call “Symbian” with most recent devices getting the changes initially slated for the generational S^4 release. Furthermore, they publicly stated that Symbian development would give way to Qt development, in essence both dog-fooding and relegation of Symbian C++ to legacy status.
In hindsight, these events in addition to the rapid pace of development of both software and hardware in the mobile sphere has led to the predicament the Foundation has faced, and thusly the decision made in the conference call and board meetings today.
On the bright side of course, SEE2010 begins tomorrow with the MeeGo conference slated for the following week. Here’s to hoping for at least SOME positive news and seeing positive strides being taken in both domains. Keep your browsers pointed here for more news on both Expos in coming days.