In Defence Of Symbian

This post is a result of a multitude of factors. Reading different forums where people write off Symbian for other OS’s such as the ones on Blackberrys’ and the iPhone, coupled with vents from a few bloggers but most importantly the attitude of the mainstream media – the TV. This is not being written because I am a Symbian fanboy and I hate to see people say a word against it, but because some of the criticism is plain unfair and off the mark.

What triggered this post was a preview that I saw for an upcoming N97 preview on NDTV (a widely watched channel in India) where the N97 was being discussed and one weakness of the device that was point out was the fact that it ran Symbian. The OS was being labeled as a weakness. The television influences a lot of people, specially those who are not ‘savvy’ enough to look up things for themselves, such statements/questions leave quite a lasting impact on the viewer’s mind. Lets try and see where does Symbian stand.

THE PAST

A few year’s back, Symbian was perhaps the only true smartphone OS complete with 3rd party applications and multitasking. The Nokia 7650 for me was a groundbreaker, something that completely changed the way I looked at mobile phones. Blackberry wasn’t a fad, and Apple was probably just thinking about an iPod phone and with Nokia’s full support Symbian ruled the roost. With time equation has changed and both RIM and Apple’s offerings have caught on, still not in terms of sales, but recognition. The debate in the geek circles still is whether the iPhone is an smartphone or not but that hardly matters because the sales figures are making that question meaningless.

THE PRESENT

Today there is a growing sentiment that Symbian is old and outdated, that despite the S60 5th Edition update that brought touch into S60, it still feels the same old OS. Another argument that is made against it is that it is not as intuitive and is difficult to use as compared to its competition that is coming from Android, BB and OS X.

But how different is Symbian actually from say OS X that runs the iPhone? You hit the menu key on a S60 device and you are presented with a grid that lists your applications, it even has folders if you want to file some of the junk away. On an iPhone, pressing its solitary button also brings up the grid of applications. Yes, there is a lot more eye candy there, but my question is that since when does eye candy amount to ease of use?

Yes the settings on some devices are really burried inside, but that isn’t really the OS’s fault – it depends on the manufacturer. Nokia seems to have learnt a lesson there and the menu on the N97 and 5800 is much more organised and finding something isn’t that hard. Moreover, the fact that the layout hasn’t changed much for the last few years works as an advantage for the experienced users.

If we talk about functionality Symbian/S60 has been right up there, from copy/paste right to flash in the web browser. Yes, its not perfect, but its at least there. Coming back to the eye candy, or rather the lack of it. Is it such a big deal? All I want in my handset is for it to be snappy and the Nokia E71 running S60 3rd Edition FP1 proved that S60 can be blazing fast.

THE FUTURE

Most of you must be aware that Symbian has now become open source and the guys at the spanking new Symbian.Org are working very hard to take it in the right direction. The interface/UI is due for a major revamp in 2010 with the QT layer and that should take care of the eye candy aspect as well.

As far as the problem with Symbian signed goes, the Symbian Foundation is looking at really simplify the signing process for applications and the costs involved; so that’s a huge positive as well. With Symbian going open source, other manufacturers apart from Nokia are likely to take further interest in the OS. Samsung already has a high end device (i8910 HD) that runs S60 5th Edition, Sony Ericsson’s Satio is extremely high end and will be one of the first devices to run the new Symbian Foundation OS.

If the Ovi Store gains traction, which it should if Nokia makes it possible for individual/hobby developers to publish, the scene for developers could become much more enticing. As it is there are more smartphones running on Symbian than any other mobile OS, so the potential is huge.

CONCLUSION

Most OS’s do certain things very well, for example BlackBerry for email but when it comes to multimedia there isn’t much. The iPhone’s OS X is weak in certain basic things e.g. Bluetooth transfers, deleting a song from the phone itself and it will continue to have such limitations because Apple wants them to say. Android is yet to prove itself, but there’s no doubt it will remain a strong contender. Symbian on the other hand is a very mature OS, with virtually no small niggles and it is open as well – meaning that it can only get better.

However, everything said and done, how Symbian shapes up will largely depend on what direction Nokia takes. It holds the largest share in the smartphone market and all of its high-mid end devices run Symbian. If it waivers too much in favour of Maemo, then developers and people could loose confidence in Symbian as Nokia till date still remains the only major player whole heartedly backing the OS.

These is a lot of potential in Symbian and I wouldn’t coun’t it out just yet. I also wouldn’t call it a phone’s weakness.

Note: I have used the words Symbian and S60 interchangebly in some instances. After this month S60 would cease to exist, there will only be Symbian.

14 thoughts on “In Defence Of Symbian”

  1. Excellent post! I’ll show it to friends… By the way, Windows Mobile ppl bash Symbian too. Adding WinMobile comparison would have been really great.

  2. Thanks James. In my personal view Win Mo currently is not even a major threat so I left that out. Lets see if the upcoming upgrade brings something substantial.

  3. Hei vaibhav..thanx..i m also symbian fanboy. U dont want to listen against symbian..& i also dont want to listen or even see against symbian. I had never ever use boring & complicated winmo..or mac or rim..

  4. a very well written post Vaibhav.. it seems there is a perpetual lobby against Symbian… the most user friendly, robust and time tested platform is suddenly obsolete.. that sounds really strange..

    its time that the symbian family starts propagating the edge Symbian has over others..probably it has been taken for granted for too long.

  5. The problem with Symbian s60 v5 is they are lazy, why would you release a touchscreen software without kinetic scrolling???

    Windows Mobile & Android support word suggestion / correction if you want these to go back to symbian then these has to be on S60 v5 or at least on symbian foundation if not good buy symbian, Symbian foundation is the last chance to stay a world leader.

  6. GREAT POST! You brought up a lot of things I have said to friends. “But how different is Symbian actually from say OS X that runs the iPhone?” Very Very true, honestly anytime I show someone something on my phone or say it does something everyone is impressed even people with iPhones. Not to sound stereotypical but it really is the trendy thing to do.

    I personally HATE the iPhone menu, I like to organize my apps, hide the things I never use, the stuff that runs in the background and so on.

  7. When they say Symbian OS they just mean the UI, that’s what I think. Even though I am a Symbian fanboy there’s no doubt that iPhones UI is exceptional, but guys there is a difference between UI and an OS.Making every thing glossy doesn’t mean its better. 5th Edition has just started to evolve and I believe in a few months it will be competent enough with the iPhone(or may be better).

  8. Hi, Vibhav, thank you for an interesting article. I am new to Symbian, hence, it is all the more interesting.

  9. Symbian has stood against time in the past and will continue doing so in the future. And as far as the irrelevant babbling about Symbian being the weakness of a phone and issues related to ease of usability goes I personally as well as from the experience of other S60 users know very well that we hardly feel like changing our phones and if we do so eventually we go for a higher end Symbian phone only. Symbian is irresistible and addicting and will continue being so in spite of all the competition its gonna face.
    New features on other OS’s would only act like a wake up call for symbian, but considering them as threats to the existence of symbian is seriously out of question.

  10. @Vaibhav, Nice article, Rightly NDTV has some BB, Iphone fanboys.
    In one show “Cellguru” I saw review of E75 and they were saying cons of E75 – lengthy process of Email setup. 🙂 Also in same review I heard term “GPRS Navigation” Funny.

  11. I would like to mention an interesting incident. My friend (who’s not into mobiles and stuff) was reading an article about mobile OSs and it mentioned about “failed mobile OS called Symbian.” He said he had never heard of it and formed an impression that it would be a bad OS. And yeah, he owned a Nokia N73. And he loves his phone.

    Symbian has never had any kind of image even amongst its users. Somehow Symbian phones never gave the impression that there are OSs running in them. Symbian foundation must first start by changing this.

    And of course those who are supposedly in the “know” and never having used a Symbian mobile, comment that its the baddest piece of code created by man. I have been using one Symbian phone or the other for the last 6 years and it has been one great experience. They used to be slow ( man, my N73 is sloooow. But I still love it!) but now things are much more better and talks of it being antiquated are rubbish. I mean, iPhone cant multitask? Come on! And including copy paste functionality was received with much fan fare. Symbian users just had to laugh at that.

    Symbian has become a part of my life. And I love every minute of it.

    PS: Vaibhav, your comment on WinMo is unfair. Its pretty good and going into WinMo 7 ( after the 6.5), it will surely become lot better. Microsoft have started realizing the ill-effects of being complacent. Symbian and WinMo, to me, are on the same boat. Tried and tested, by treated as crap in front of the iPhones and Androids. Yeah, people using WinMo know what OS they are using. Microsoft had made sure that that happened.

Comments are closed.