Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why Nokia might not scrap Symbian after all

Symbian is both a pioneer among the smartphone operating systems and a product without a clear future. Nokia is still hoping to sell more than 150 million Symbian smartphones.

The current range of models reflects Nokia's desire to appeal to a range of target audiences. The N8 is the company's multimedia flagship, with a 12 megapixel camera and HDMI output for direct connection to an HDTV.

The C7 is the convenient do-it-all device, with a touchscreen and few physical buttons. Then there are two models aimed at business customers: the E7 with its slide-out QWERTY keyboard and the E6 with a keyboard directly under the monitor. The X7 is aimed at a younger audience, with better game playing on the larger screen and quick access to the online network.

Nokia is also betting on its free navigation software as a powerful draw. The company's devices come preloaded with maps for up to 200 countries, showing routes for drivers and pedestrians. Nokia also recently added in 3D views as well. The acquisition of mapmaking specialists Navteq, a transaction costing millions, ensured that the Finns have all the components for navigation in-house. All these are only available on it's Symbian Platform.

Symbian mobiles are also designed to allow users to compose their own start page, with widgets displaying new email messages and social media posts. Unlike competitor Apple, Nokia promises compatibility with Flash videos as well. The devices come in a solid metal housing that sits well in the hand.

But one question remains: Why have Nokia's Symbian telephones sold so poorly in recent years? After all, new company CEO Stephen Elop felt it necessary to change horses midstream and switch to the Microsoft software. Read more about the NokiaSoft controversy here.

Industry experts have repeatedly distilled the problem down to a simple formula: Nokia has solidly built devices -- and software that can't keep up with competitors like Apple's iOS software for the iPhone and iPad or Google's Android operating system. The rise of Android phones was the straw that broke the camel's back for Nokia's smartphone strategy. Maemo and MeeGo were left on the sidelines.

The weaknesses of Symbian become clear to customers when they try to type in a Google search or WLAN access codes on the virtual phone keyboard, or when they try to search through menus that sometimes seem to have no rhyme or reason. "There are too many settings in too many different places," says industry watcher Michael Gartenberg.

The decision to move to Windows Phone doesn't mean a sudden death for Symbian though. Nokia has in fact pledged to continue developing it. The current Symbian update includes better controls for the touchscreen and the ability to run multiple apps at once. In total some 250 new functions are included.

Users can acquire apps from Nokia's proprietary Ovi platform, which sees more than five million downloads each day, the company reports. That said, it has significantly fewer programs available than Apple's App Store or the Android market. That is considered a central competitive disadvantage for the Symbian platform. Nokia has since decided to scrap the Ovi brand.


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