Symbian, a mobile OS, gets a heart

I like rooting for the underdog, even if that underdog has an installed base of over 250 million. But when you’ve got competitors like Apple, Google & Blackberry, it’s easy to achieve underdog status.

Which is what makes the Symbian situation so interesting. Bought by Nokia in 2008 and spun out into a nonprofit foundation, Symbian has packaged its code in an open-source release and is counting on a confederation of scrappy, innovative developers and large handset manufacturers (Nokia & others) to hand with their iconic competitors. (The foundation’s blog is here.)

I haven’t taken a look at their code, but from other evidence I’d judge they’re off to a good start. The website is starkly different from the typical mobile web site. It features hand-drawn graphics and a friendly heart-shaped logo. Far from the technocratic, world-domination images of their competitors.

And that’s smart, in my eyes. Apple is here to stay, and Blackberry too. Google is late to the party, but too scary and smart to count out. So it would be easy for another competitor to fold the tent (or compete head-on, as Windows Mobile is doing unsuccessfully). Symbian’s employing a better competitive approach–embracing open source, at the edges and at the core, investing in community and otherwise using the Mozilla playbook. All good stuff and good for the mobile industry.

Now, when will I be able to get one of their phones in the US?

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  • Jason Lackey

    Hi John – let me just say that calling Symbian the smartphone underdog is perhaps akin to calling Microsoft the desktop OS underdog and Google the up and coming search provider. These guys have about half the smartphone market depending on how you define smartphone and run on some of the very best hardware there is. While many phones have an ephemeral, almost cheap feel, like they will be thrown out in a couple months, phones like the E71x, recently introduced by AT&T, are built like tanks. Hold one and thoughts of the cuddly underdog vanish.

    Speaking of the E71x – fine phone, built to last and made for the long run. Fair disclosure, I work for InnoPath, a company that builds mobile customer care solutions. While we did not make the device management client on the E71, it is a damn fine client on that Symbian device. The cool thing about that and many other Symbian phones is that they come from the factory with OMA-DM over the air management capability built in. This means that folks like AT&T and others will be able to deploy servers in their call centers that will allow them to remotely manage, meaning both diagnose and fix, these phones over the air. Oh, new firmware update? Well, with uberdogs like the iPhone you need to do a 300 meg download on your PC, install iTunes and then use that to install the ROM. With FOTA capable devices, well, just download the FOTA package (much more like a patch in size than a full system image) and do the update – all over the air. No fuss, no muss, no bother.

    Yeah, these guys are good. The cutsey logo and stuff has inspired lots of discussion and helps encourage thoughts of warmth and compassion etc, but these guys are top tier players at the height of their game with a commanding market share. I suspect that both Nokia and Symbian will find greater acceptance in North America in days to come and I further suspect that the manageablility of symbian devices will be part of the cause of their success.

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