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Symbian, the Biggest Mobile OS No One Talks About 423

blackbearnh writes "The iPhone vs. Android wars are in full swing, but no one talks about the mobile operating system that most of the world uses: Symbian. Part of the reason, perhaps, is that the Symbian developer infrastructure is so different from the Wild West approach that Apple and Google take. Over at O'Reilly Answers, Paul Beusterien, who is the Head of Developer Tools for the Symbian Foundation, talks about why Symbian gets ignored as a platform despite the huge number of handsets it runs on. Quoting: 'Another dimension is the type of developer community. [Historically, Symbian's type of developers] were working for consulting houses or working at phone operator places or specifically doing consulting jobs for enterprise customers who wanted mobile apps. So there's a set of consulting companies around the world that have specialized in creating apps for Symbian devices. It's a different kind of dynamic than where iPhone has really been successful at attracting just the hobbyist, or the one- or two-person company, or the person who just wants to go onto the web and start developing.'"
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Symbian, the Biggest Mobile OS No One Talks About

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  • Symbian is a goner (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Monday July 05, 2010 @02:34PM (#32801834) Homepage

    Isn't Nokia moving to MeeGo for their premier phones? Even the guy who runs a big Symbian fan site has given up [symbian-guru.com].

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @02:40PM (#32801910)

    If you look around, you can ALSO find the same groups of people doing consulting work for companies around iPhone and Android development. Yes it's true that both platforms also have the hobby developers, but that's only a small part of the overall market.

    In fact if you think about it you could argue the iPhone had a leg up on said base of serious developers, because there was already a reasonably large base of professional Mac developers around before the iPhone - I would argue probably more than there were ever dedicated Symbian developers.

    The problem Symbian had is the same problem WinCE and the same problem Android WOULD have had if, being Java based, they had just tried to bring J2ME forward a bit more into the smartphone realm. Both Android and iPhoneOS are designed from the ground up to be fully featured operating systems, without a ton of compromises and pretty old design philosophies baked into other existing mobile platforms. Yes there are a ton of Symbian devices around, but does that matter when you know you can sell an order of magnitude more software developing for the iPhone or Android?

    It's only a matter of time before corporate use of these two platforms totally eclipses Symbian development in the enterprise, if it's not already happened.


  • by gyrogeerloose ( 849181 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @02:45PM (#32801958) Journal

    But there always seems to be quite the buzz around this product.

    Really? Point us to some of this buzz of which you speak.

    The reason that no one talks about Symbian is that no one gives a fuck about it. Might as well ask why no on talks about COBOL.

  • All the more for me (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 05, 2010 @02:53PM (#32802044)
    As far as I'm concerned, all the better, with a ridiculous number of Symbian phones already deployed in corporate environments people like me can move in and develop tailored apps for existing infrastructure and make very decent money doing it whilst others go along with the fads, spend twice as much effort and earn less than half what I'm making, all the while being controlled by abnormally restrictive policies imposed by the hardware vendor. Mind you, Symbian is a bitch to work with but frankly when compare the effort and reward it really is easy pickings.
  • Nokia 5800 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kenshin ( 43036 ) <kenshinNO@SPAMlunarworks.ca> on Monday July 05, 2010 @03:14PM (#32802232) Homepage

    I recently picked-up a Nokia 5800 because it was a good price, I didn't need to get locked into a long contract (this is Canada), and I got an unusually cheap unlimited mobile data plan for it. (Money's tight.)

    As a smart phone, yes, it's laughable how few apps are available for it, and I still have iPhone/Android envy... but it does the job well enough for me without breaking the bank.

  • by stanlyb ( 1839382 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @03:36PM (#32802380)
    I am developer too, and in a matter of day, i succeeded to make a virtual machine, with all the C++ IDE, QT IDE, whatever IDE installed and configured, and to actually create the famous "HELLO WORLD" application, out of the box. As simple as that. And my current phone is Nokia too, and it is under Symbian, and it has OVI MAPS, which is FREE, i repeat, FREE, and it has Ovi Store with a tons of free applications and tones and wallpapers, and much much more. Oh, one last thing, my phone actually works, as is supposed to work every single decent phone, without having the funny ANTENNA problem, like some other funny "smart"-phones do.
  • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @03:43PM (#32802454)

    SymbianS60v3 and S60v5 (also known as Symbian^1) still powers pretty much all nokia's touch screen phones, which alone sell more then android and iphone combined.
    Symbian^2 is fairly popular in Japan, due to its extremely low system requirements (same as ^1 really), and some specialized features.
    Symbian^3 which is being developed for n8 seems to be the natural evolution of Symbian^1, i.e. mid range smart phone OS.

    The problem is that unlike android and iphone, these phones are very competitively priced, and sacrifice "bling" features for actual function, such as better features, lower price and business-directed application support. As a result, there's many fewer people with "loose money" who are willing to sink a few euros/dollars/etc into some funny looking application on a weekly basis. They also tend to look much less pretty, focusing on function, and have slower hardware, meaning less responsive UI, which is advertised as a major feature on IOS and android.

    This is really noticeable even on OVI store. Almost no games, but a shitload of various business-oriented and rather expensive applications ranging from call recorders to improved ms exchange handling to translation software. This stuff just doesn't sell to the young adult croud. Add to that the fact that much of smartphone hype is US-driven, and Symbian being big pretty much everywhere in the world but the US, you get the perfect storm scenario where little players on the market completely outshine the real behemoth in marketing and publicity.

  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Monday July 05, 2010 @04:27PM (#32802890)

    Bullshit. Nokia smart phones are so common here in Germany and around, that you can mostly just assume others have a Nokia S60 or S40. Usually you’re right.
    So actually, there is no real point to developing for anything else than Symbian.
    I mean Apple just kills your app off because you got a ooohhh-soo-evil “forbidden” word in it. (Caused by the mental illness that is religion, which creates mind distortions like these). [And good games tend to surpass such boundaries almost by definition.]
    And Windows Mobile? Just as much a lock-in OS. And a crappy one too. Since it has no Java, it’s a goner anyway. (Just like iOS.)
    This leaves Linux-like OSes like MeeGo and Android as alternatives. And they are way too tiny to be worth it.

    Ok, actually if performance is not an issue, you just develop for Java MIDP2+ and be done with 99% of the target market.

    Oh, and I’m an actual phone software developer.

    P.S.: While Symbian itself is pretty shitty to program in, you gotta love the tons of APIs they have. It’s really already a full grown gaming station that just has way too little power... yet.

  • by maaleron ( 456278 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:33PM (#32803356)
    Focus sunshine. GP was complaining that Nokia needs to update their GUI and the move to QT makes complete sense.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @05:36PM (#32803376) Journal
    Neither of you are entirely right.

    QT isn't an OS, so saying that they are "switching to QT" is indeed wrong; but saying "Symbian" has, traditionally, implied much more about the UI, widget set, and preferred programming languages than saying "Linux" has. S60, UIQ, and MOAP are all closely tied to Symbian, and all pretty different from QT, though they cover much of the same ground, so the QT switch means that a lot of the guts of those are headed for the cutting room floor.

    Symbian/QT is about as similar to prior Symbian+UI/PIM layer iterations as Android is to a traditional Linux setup(possibly less so, actually, because virtually everything but the native X support is still there behind the scenes with Android, you just can't see it without some poking).
  • by MattRog ( 527508 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @06:00PM (#32803568)

    To me, the biggest drawback is its popularity: the hardware is insanely fragmented. Want to write a Symbian app? Browse the device list http://www.symbian.org/devices [symbian.org]

    App developers have to support:
    1) mix of touch and non touch screens
    2) Insanely different display resolutions
    3) Crazy list of hardware buttons (some have keyboards, some none, some have the 10 digit numeric, etc.)
    4) Different form factors (clamshell, block, etc.)

    Basically, writing a very good, elegant app that people WANT TO PAY FOR in Symbian is a disaster. Best to write for iOS and Android. Although both hardware platforms are fragmented they are not nearly as bad to deal with as Symbian. That, and there's a culture of "It's OK and normal to buy apps" (much more so on iOS than Android, of course) that doesn't appear to exist on other platforms (yet).

  • by bigtrike ( 904535 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @06:08PM (#32803646)

    Until recently you had to jump through hoops for all object construction and memory allocation. It was very difficult to write or use even basic algorithms that are compatible with both Symbian and anything else. See http://wiki.forum.nokia.com/index.php/Two-phase_construction [nokia.com] If you don't do it quite right, your code will probably still work in their "simulator," but will fail on the actual device. Remote debugging the simulator used to require two physical serial ports looped to each other via null modem cable.

    Personally, I'd rather develop for any other platform.

  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @06:45PM (#32803972) Homepage Journal

    Sure, most iPhone and Android apps are useless and/or redundant. I can personally confirm this for Android, and there's no reason to assume iPhone is any different. But you're taking exactly the wrong lesson from this.

    Ask yourself why thousands of losers bother to write and publish "fart" apps for these platforms. Because it's easy to do, that's why. And that easiness means there are a lot of gems amongst all those turds.

    Let's see. (Pulls out HTC Hero.) I've got Evernote (notebook, automatically syncs to web and PC versions) MortPlay (the only MP3 player that suits my particular needs, had to sort through a couple dozen others to find it), StreamItRadio (MP3 streams, same comments), Weather Channel (automatically updates itself based on my current location) and Yelp (very handy when I'm in a strange neighborhood and feeling peckish). Not a lot of apps, but I haven't seen comparable apps on other platforms. Don't know about Symbian, but I'll bet not.

    Oh yeah, and there are direct links on my Android desktop for Google Reader (never know when you might have to wait in a really long line) and for the web pages for the BART stations I use the most. Those last ones get updated once a minute with actual (not scheduled) train arrivals, which minimizes my stand-around time.

    None of these features are life-changing, but I find them worth having. And I don't see anybody rushing to write similar apps on Symbian.

  • by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @07:11PM (#32804184)

    OK, here's the two hundred ton elephant wearing a pink tutu dancing between Lady Gaga and Madonna that (surprisingly) nobody seems to have mentioned yet: for all intents and purposes, Symbian doesn't exist in the United States. As far as I know, you can't go to a store operated by Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile and buy a brand new phone subsidized by the carrier that runs Symbian (maybe, MAYBE Nextel might have one imported from Japan, but I wouldn't count on it).

    Actually, it goes deeper than that -- as far as I know, you can't even buy a phone running Symbian, period, that's capable of 3G data on any network in the United States (with the *possible* exception of an imported Japanese phone that by some miracle of God might work on Nextel). For whatever reason, Symbian is almost a synonym for "Expensive GSM phone that nevertheless can't do EDGE, and is capable of 3G UMTS only at 1900/2100MHz". Thus, no sane American likely to be remotely interested in a phone running Symbian is going to go out and spend $500 or more to buy an unlocked phone that's basically a GPRS paperweight capable of making voice calls in a pinch.

    "Invisible and Irrelevant in America" == "Invisible and Irrelevant to American Journalists" (who happen to generate most of the English-language content that gets read worldwide, and highly influence the rest of it). Thus, daily headlines about iPhone and Android. Occasional mentions of Palm. <tongue location="cheek">Symbian? Is that, like, the new name for Palm or Windows Mobile or something? </tongue>

    The fact that Symbian started enforcing code-signing a couple of years ago (effectively shutting out casual developers who've always been welcomed with open arms by Android and pre-Kin/7 Microsoft) certainly hasn't helped, either... the moment they did that, they effectively wrote off a big chunk of their most influential and outspoken EUROPEAN former users, too.

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @09:48PM (#32805396) Homepage

    Sort of. It's clear (Apple said so themselves!) that iPhone targets only "premium" people living in "premium" places.

    Meanwhile Nokia sells annually an order of magnitude more mobile phones than Apple has ever produced; Nokia contributes greatly to the world having close to 5 billion mobile subsribers by now (for many of them, first practical means of communication) - that's a monumental shift for humanity. Apple isn't interested in contributing to it much (what, with ~1%?), perhaps is even freeriding (we'll see how that dispute ends up)

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @11:36PM (#32806104) Homepage

    Might be best now to just target Symbian Qt [nokia.com] (with Nokia doing even new LGPL'd Qt Python bindings)

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Monday July 05, 2010 @11:58PM (#32806232) Homepage

    Uhm, Qt is fine also for merely newish Symbian devices (last 2-3 years, basically); that's still much greater numbers than anything else.

  • Nokia Qt SDK (Score:4, Interesting)

    by guruz ( 645678 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @02:19AM (#32807198) Homepage
    I really hope that the Nokia Qt SDK will change the Symbian 3rd party developer landscape.
    http://www.forum.nokia.com/Develop/Qt/ [nokia.com]
    Disclosure: I work inside Nokia on Qt.
  • And once you are through all that you have Ovi to sell your stuff. If you are a registered company that is. If not you are to be ripped of by Handango and the likes.

    Disaster upon disaster.


The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court