92 thoughts on “Symbian, iPhone & the New Mobile Reality”

  1. I believe Symbian’s open sourcing is not only aimed at Mobile Linux, as you suggested, but at Google’s Android as well.

    In one move, Symbian has gained what Google hopes Android will be in a few years: a widely used open source OS that anyone handset maker can adopt easily and use paired with thousands of useful applications.

    Google/Android will have an edge however, if they can wisely pair Android with Google’s mobile services that are presently here and coming down the pipe.

  2. You forgot to mention Unix and the Unix wars. All helped to establish MS as the platform provider.
    I think we will see the same thing here, easy to use Developer tools for the platform will lead the way. Good enough applications will follow.
    Iff DRM gets in the way, Symbian and Apple will loose. To much control can be a bad thing, just asked SUN and DEC. Let’s see if Apple has learned from past mistakes.

  3. You forgot to mention Maemo , I think it has a lot of potential, considering it already has cool handhelds in the market though the only major backer is Nokia..

  4. @ ronald…. I guess you summed it up better in one line than my entire post 🙂 damn! Anyway I was writing without caffeine so I should be cut some slake.

  5. Don’t look at unit numbers – look at bytes downloaded which is a measure of web usage. That’s what advertisers care about. Apple already leads in this category over ALL platforms. This is before iPhone 3G and international distribution! 24 countries next month, and 70 by the end of the year. Let’s face it – NEC is closing the barn door after most of the horses have taken off. The high end horses to boot.

  6. Om,

    If I may play devil’s advocate, I’m not a big believer in the future success of mobile applications. Consumers don’t like downloading software to their cell phones, and I expect Apple will make the iPhone AppStore 1 click downloading like iTunes, yet I don’t expect iPhone market share to come anywhere close to 1.0. Hence, the common platform ALL of these operating systems have is the Internet. I think cloud based applications for mobile usage will be the ultimate winners when the handset manufacturers realize that Internet ease of access is the key to rapid and large handset sales.

    Obviously, I think a “life cycle in the middle” of downloading applications to cell phones will be short lived.

    My $.02.



  7. Your chart is very, very strange. And I doubt it will play out that way at all.

    I notice Palm isn’t there. I’d bet on Palm before I’d ever bet on this last-gasp Symbian ploy from death-spiraling Nokia.

  8. >>>I think cloud based applications for mobile usage will be the ultimate winners

    Yeah, I have some lovin’ for that Cloud whenever YahhoMail, WordPress, and Blogger go down. And let’s not forget that recent datacenter fire that blacked-out many, many sites.

    Cloud computing? Hey, everyone still lives on *earth*.

  9. @ Mike Cane, I am with you on cloud love and the issues that go with it, but the trends are all in that direction. I disagree with you on Palm… which is dead man walking.

    @ Curtis, you bring up good points, but as the speeds increase, devices get relatively open, I think the downloadable market might change for the better. call me too optimistic about this but for the first time I feel the stars are aligning for the mobile industry. It is for another post – today I am out writing out the script for Structure 08 which is in less than a day/

  10. Like the PC wars analogy but doesn’t the browser itself change the landscape? Won’t the browser itself be the dominant mobile *platform* for quite some time? Not that the power of a true platform won’t power awesome mobile apps, but seems like the browser itself is gonna lead this race for quite some time…

  11. I wouldn’t read so much into this move. Its a defensive strategy to shore up their dev platform. Nokia is just responding to the changing tides of the industry.

  12. nokia is now a internet company. this is a BIG change of purpose. very telling.

    forget mobile about mobile handsets. value has migrated to service innovation models. Mobile apps esp w/ Lbs.

    With increased blurring between web and mobile web,
    Nokia wants to do a google (advertising) with a small hint of Apple (hardware) – read as a multiplicity of business models.

  13. it is China, china, china. Nokia doesn’t have a prayer in the US market for the next two years. But they are getting their asses kicked by Linux in China and Asia. By reducing cost for the generic chinese to come in, they can easily expand market share. Pretty stupid, if you ask me. they need to focus on profit share, where apple will eat them alive.

    And Nokia is 90% committed to S60; the Linux is mostly in their internet devices which is a really small market.

  14. Great post. Speaking of iphone. I was reading the LA times and I blogged on savvywallet.com about women who are complaining they are unable to use the iphones because of their long nails. They are blaming Apple as being misogynistic because they didn’t design a stylus. Are you kidding? MAC OS, linus, not important. Able to support women with long fingernails is more important than the symbian foundation

  15. Great. Another open source OS to get fragmented by device makers and carriers, and therefore become useless to developers. The Symbian guys will end up in the same place Android is going to end up: nowhere.

    What developers want in a platform is stability, consistency (from the UI, all the way down to the circuit board) and a support infrastructure to make money. Only one player is providing that: Apple.

  16. Steve Haney is absolutely on the money. The single biggest reason many people dismiss Apple and the iPhone is they are wedded to an ideology that open = superior. Playstation, Xbox, and Wii prove that openness is not a requirement for massive success.

    The thing is, when you put together the iPhone, SDK, consistent deployment, and the App Store, you get a multiplier effect that makes the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. There was a comment I saw that put it best – as long as the carriers are free to cripple these open source phones however they wish, you will never have a platform that can dominate because not many developers can navigate the obstacle course of a fractured platform.

  17. Om, good post. Two points that I would challenge here are:

    1) That the game is all about software. What Apple is doing is proving out the goodness of deep integration between hardware, software and service layers when dealing with highly specialized, performance optimized devices. At some point, the best practices will get fully baked and commoditized but we have a long way to go to get to that point. By contrast, the PC was a more general-purpose platform so the path to commoditization and the related invisibility of the hardware was quicker and favored a software-only play like Microsoft.

    2) I agree that this is a platform play and that he who wins the hearts and minds of developers wins the game, but we need to be clear that when we talk “platform stack” there is a tendency to think OS and networking stuff when the real differentiation lies in the APIs, libraries, toolset, marketplace/distribution functions. Its the distinction between saying Windows and Visual Studio. In this respect, Symbian value higher up the stack is limited.



  18. Om,
    It is entirely possible that Apple will have 15% of the cellphone market in 5 years. Motorola’s share will continue to decline as will Nokia’s and Samsung. Also, expect the Andriod devices to be priced at very attractive levels.

  19. Mark Sigal pretty much hits it on the head. But I would add one thought to his Point 1: The only reason Microsoft’s software-only play worked was because the PC was primarily an office productivity device, whose market was driven by MIS managers and CIOs of big companies. Flaky PCs were accepted because MS and the PC makers assumed they were going into an office and there was an MIS guy there to help users out when something inevitably broke.

    But mobile phones are first and foremost consumer devices, bought by individuals driven by very different needs. So the development model for them needs to follow another successful consumer platform model: the videogame console. If anyone thinks Apple’s control over the iPhone is tight, they should try developing for Nintendo or Sony’s consoles. A consumer device has to “just work”. Apple knows this (and, frankly, the carriers with their own content programs do too). When you drop the software (a cartridge or disc) into a game console, it has to just work, period. Otherwise the support costs spiral out of control.

    Windows machines working their way into homes in a mass market way in the mid-90’s (thanks to the Internet), was a weird market anomaly. And just bad business: consumers came to hate their desktop computers. It is like consumers going to CostCo and buying a restaurant size bucket of mayonnaise; that product was never meant for them. This is why the Mac is making such headway now on the consumer front; it “just works” much better than a Windows box.

    Cobbling together a phone (especially on the software side) and expecting it to be a good consumer device isn’t going to happen. Alternately, Apple is doing everything right. By controlling everything in the stack from top to bottom, consumers are going to get the best mobile computing experience possible.

  20. quote:
    “1) That the game is all about software. What Apple is doing is proving out the goodness of deep integration between hardware, software and service layers when dealing with highly specialized, performance optimized devices. At some point, the best practices will get fully baked and commoditized but we have a long way to go to get to that point.”

    You are right. The iPod/iTunes (soft)/iTunes Store was not “fully backed” yet as a user experience, iPod is from 2001. iTunes Store is from 2003.

    Maybe in 2012/2015 they got it right. Althought it is a more fiercy market than music.

  21. We can debate past industry moves and analogies forever, but the devil is in the detail and execution. Nokia has won the handset market first through superior products, and in the past 5 years, largely through logistics and execution. Today, Nokia remains far stronger than other handset manufacturers at offering breadth and depth in their product portfolio including hardware, software and services. Symbian, a strong platform, has been be riding on Nokia’s S60 shirt tails.

    Two points to be made about the creation of the Symbian Foundation: It is a important step in breaking up the grip of the telecom giants, and it remains to be seen what innovation can arise from a open foundation. Look at the Open Mobile Alliance where bureaucracy and in-fighting often slow innovation to a crawl. Just download the organisation chart at http://www.symbianfoundation.org to get a sense for the future debates.

  22. >>Guess who’s doing exactly that these days? Steve Jobs, of course
    iPhone does stand a chance to change the game in a fundamental way but apple is not handelling it well till now . 30% of cut from Application sale through iTune Store , Data Plan Limitation,and only 4K developer got enrollment in iPhone developer program out of 25K who applied . not a good way to court developer community i guess .

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  24. Since mobile gadgets will never have power of desktop counterparts, the apps they run are and will be mostly thin client of server apps, web apps in particular. Considering this fact and Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra, platform doesn’t matter any more. What you need these days for your platform to succeed, it’s a small-footprint snappy standard-compliant browser. Heard about Maemo? Considering porting Maemo to Symbian, accompanied with mobile Prism (Mozilla’s extension) you end up with full-fledged platform qualified for corporate customers as well. Based on this I’d up the ante on Symbian as the platform’ success also depends on speed of flooding the market. Count on Nokia.

  25. Interesting comment from Mark Sigal and Steve Haney above. Very good post, Om. Difficult to argue against either side. My opinion crystallises as this:

    – Apple will succeed in creating compelling mobile internet devices by controlling the entire device stack from hardware – OS – US – applications. This will reach a significant market share of users in a number of markets.

    – However taking this approach in the ‘traditional mobile phone’ space doesn’t scale. It would break Apple apart to try and make a wide variety of devices in this manner. And there are a great many people in the world who will never want an iPhone-like device.

    – Therefore the market trends that see the OS being farmed out into open source, foundation-led organisations will inevitably continue, and we will see an incredible level of competition and shrinking margins that shakes out the weaker players. Nonetheless, a lot of money will still be made by those who are the best assemblers of hardware, software, UI and apps for mass market devices.

    Nonetheless, Apple will be the winner in their segment, I don’t doubt it.

  26. Great article and really enjoyed the follow-up discussion in the comments. There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to consumer expectations of mobile phones and how the various OEMs and OS players will have to compete and do better than the best experiences out there today. Definitely good times for the industry.

  27. It’s incredible how confident some Apple fans are about their darling company and how they belittle the competition, regardless what the said competition does. The OS that’s dominating the space by a landslide, Symbian, will become open-source. You know open-source like the much publicized and much acclaimed Android, but already with hundreds of different devices running it and millions of consumers using it? That’s a great move by Nokia and a good news for mobile developers. But some people just promptly dismisses it by already tagging it a failure and, at the same time, crowns Apple and the iPhone as the king of the smartphone world, as if by destiny. Sure, the iPhone is a great product and Apple will sell millions of units but do you really believe developers will write an app for only 5% of the smartphones market? No. Chances are, they will also release a version for the OS that owns +50% of the market.

  28. My opinion is from a developer of a “new age” cellular application point of view. First to Intosh …we decided to do an application for 0% of the market …iPhone in its first month of opertion… i will not reveal the name of the company as we are not the center of this discussion… but i can tell you that we got more publicity and press running on us then any of the applications that run on symbian (maybe even more then all of them together…i am not joking here). So making a decision to write an application on 0% market share was a smart thing…
    If i wrote for symbian, i would be one of thousands, it is close to impossible to get any recognition in the symbian world.
    Now lets get to the most important thing…even if i wanted to write the application on symbian…not even the best programmers in the world would make the application as smooth and cool as iPhone. Symbian is old, cumbersome, not friendly to compute ..and it has a very big competition with Microsoft Mobile… which is more retarded for the web/bigscreen/fun aspect.
    Now, Android is a different story, it is just as good an OS as iPhone….again…backed by Google, and with smart marketing, many of the 1700 hundred applications developed for the android 0% market share, got more press then most of the existing Symbian and MS Mobile applications. How come the new generations of developers spend their time on an OS with 0% market share? How come MIT prepares students for the android competition when there are no cellphone available until 2009?
    The answer is very simple for any developer…Symbian and MS Mobile are boring, slow operating systems and no young developer wants to develop fun stuff for them.

    My prediction : It is Apple and Android who will be left in the competition…they have a much faster and efficient engine and in today’s world …no one wants to make cars based on GM engines…

    Who will have the largest market share? i assume Android because it is available to everyone…but Apple will become one of the major handset manufacturers. It will not be the first just because it will not share its OS … and will compete alone against the rest of the world…as always… but probably in a smarter way then with the MAC.

    To summarize … symbian is opensource not because it is a strategic decision…it is a garages sale of an old car…

  29. I would like to point that even though “smartphones” get the bulk of the media coverage just because its more sexy to talk of them, the majority of the phones being sold today are still generic “dumb” phones with proprietary software typically owned by the phone manufacturers (including Nokia which has its Series 40 software…).

    It will be interesting to see what percentage of sales, (anyone have handy statistics?) contain one of the above branded OS’s today?

    And what the forecasted growth of the branded Vs generic/proprietary OS is?

    I would still think that to escape royalty and other costs associated with licensing and trying to differentiate themselves from other OEMs, this will be a long, boring battle…before any winner emerges.

    In anycase, my question is — What about the low end of the market, how will the battle play out over there..?

  30. @Andy, @Luis, @Marc, @Steve and all…

    Deep integration (seamless hardware/software/service integration) is extremely powerful; Luis is right in that nobody, not even Apple, have done this right the first time in the consumer market yet. But, as has been proven by numerous companies over the years, going into a new market (such as phones, especially 3G phones for Apple) means that you not only get to make a whole new set of mistakes, you get to show that you’ve learned from the mistakes you and others have made before. I believe this is exactly what we’ll see with the 3G iPhone. Apple, despite numerous missteps small and large, have proven that there is a nice market willing to pay premium prices for consumer devices with the functionality of PCs (the current Mac line). They can look at how the luxury-for-its-own-sake brands do things (e.g., Rolex, Prada), how the top-quality-for-ordinary-people brands do things (the original Sony, Seiko, Mercedes). They can then take lessons learnt from their own experiences at least as far back as 1984 and chart a course that combines elements of all three to produce a phenomenon that really has never been seen done successfully before: a consumer appliance (which means it has to “just work”, first time, every time) that has the connotations of luxury, but an item that the great bell curve of the market can convince themselves is worth the money (and priced to reinforce that perception).

    It’s also clear that Apple “get” the idea of “quality” as it applies to consumer equipment better than anybody else save perhaps Nokia (on the low end) or Sony. Quality isn’t just “neat features”, though you do need those for differentiation. “Quality” first and foremost means reliable usability: Joe Customer has to be able to pull it out of his jeans pocket or sit down at the keyboard and NOT HAVE TO THINK ABOUT HOW TO MAKE IT WORK; he’s thinking about what he wants to do with it. Thus the old joke about the difference between Windows and the Mac: “a Windows usee tells you everything he had to do to get his work done; a Mac user shows you all the great work she got done.” It’s not perfect, but it’s closer now than anything else I’ve seen in 30 years in the industry. Of course they’re going to apply the lessons painfully taught by the market to the iPhone. And when they do… we’ll see the kind of thing that business schools look back on and analyze for half a century. The iPhone is the DC-3 of our age; not the first, not necessarily in all technical respects the absolute best, but the one that changed its industry (then, air travel; here, smartphones) and made it routine for a mass market.

  31. @Damorian: your arguments are all technical or technological. Probably because you’re a software developer. I am familiar with how a technical guy thinks — I am an engineer myself. Fact is you cannot escape the laws of economics and numbers — you cannot perpetually ignore 50% of the market. At some point, some decision makers at the top of your organization will ask “Hey, what about those 100 millions devices out there which still cannot run our cool application?” And when that time comes, believe me, you’ll be writing software for a platform however crappy it may be if it is commanding a dominating market share.

  32. I have heard and seen people replace their cell phone every few years as newer phones come out on the market. What happens to the old phones? Their usefulness is short lived, as is market share. As a complete unit with no removable parts, a cell phone is unlike a desktop PC that can be disassembled for salvage to use for repairs of older equipment or to rebuild as a “new” computer and just slap on the OS of choice.

    Market share of cell phones can change over the lifetime of a service plan. Dropping your cell phone can break it or you kill it by drowning it and a new phone is now needed.

    IF a cell phone platform is available, where applications JUST WORK, whether on the previous version or on the next, people will get the SAME cell phone platform as a replacement. If the software does NOT work on your replacement, then you end up buying the software all over again, which will turn people off to the replacement. Therefore, future success will hinge on a standard for software that will continue to work, OR on cloud computing that any replacement phone must be able to support.

    For myself in Canada, I am waiting to see what Rogers service pricing is for the iPhone and see whether it is worthwhile. I gave up my Bell cell last year and am currently without a cell phone. I’ve actually been enjoying NOT having a leash on my life so I have to decide if I want the leash back along with its costs. The benefits of the iPhone will have to be great to make me pay the guessed at $80 to $100 a month costs for an iPhone. The cost of the phone itself is peanuts compared to the monthly cost, but most people focus on the initial costs.

    As to who will win of the OS’s? Don’t know and don’t care. A phone is a TOOL for me as a consumer to use. If it does what I want in an easy to use manner, I will use it. If it costs me too much, either in time to learn/time to use, inconvenience to use, costs to operate, restrictions on usage, etc. then I won’t use it or will gravitate to other devices.

    Remember that I am using a PHONE, not an operating system. Priority is on the PHONE part of it for voice and turning it into an internet device allows me access to the cloud of information that exists and that I want access to at my convenience. The operator of the phone/internet connections will make or break any device. Options of wifi access (internet & voip) along with regular cellular access improve the usability of the device.

    I think Apple is heading in the right direction and has a lead in the minds of the public. Everyone is trying to come up with an iPhone killer, everyone is instantly compared to the iPhone and the public is putting Apple at the front of the list to compare against.

    Whether the OS is open source or closed it still boils down to whether I can do what I want with the device at the price that I can afford.

  33. Sure, market share is not permanent, so is novelty. And, other phone manufacturers do have products that WORK; otherwise, they wouldn’t have sold tens of millions of units.

  34. [..] I just uninstalled Gmail application from my N82 …. reason …. Gmail mobile web interface has become greater. I want to shun this discussion with a comment that platform will be mare base to install a browser and my ecosystem of applications will be a set of Web Pointers like Bookmarks.

    Although, I like the analogy between PC and mobile platforms war. But end of day, I think better mobile browser will finish this battle of developing applications for multiple platforms. Web applications will do efficient transition into mobile web with assistance with Cloud computing on back-end. [..]

  35. [..] I have just uninstalled Gmail Application from my N82 …. reason …. Gmail mobile web interface has become greater. I want to shun all the discussions about platform war with a comment that platform will be mare base to install a mobile browser and my ecosystem of applications will be a set of Web Pointers like Bookmarks.

    Although I am in agreement with the analogy between PC and mobile platforms war, but end of day, I think better mobile browser will finish this battle of developing applications for multiple platforms. Web applications will do efficient transition into mobile web with assistance with Cloud computing on back-end. [..]

  36. To date the needs of building complex phones has outweighed the appeal of providing powerful APIs for third party app developers, and the new competing platforms are using that to their advantage to get buy-in from us ISVs.

    A new Symbian OS influenced by a wider range of Foundation members has the potential to address this weakness and we expect better APIs and tools to be a major benefit of this change in Symbian’s structure.

  37. Nokia is a bit late in doing it. Symbian Foundation should have been formed last year when Google announced its Android and Apple launched its lushy iPhone.

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  39. What we have now is a commercial war. Europeans buy many iphones and apple doesn’t need to pay for advertisement. They are paying low income reporters to make fake articles almost for free. These days media don’t have any principles. They compare the price of a subsidise iphone (199€) with one unsubsidised N97 (650€). The reality is that they cost the same. America is completely boycotting Nokia and Europe should do the same to the iphone. If the American carriers don’t buy Nokia, the world undisputed leader in the smartphone, the European carriers should do the same. He should respond to this commercial war that the Americans started.

  40. Great article and comments. My thoughts about the state of the market and where it’s going:

    1. Operating system manufacturers will soon be market leaders. Google, Microsoft and Apple are all rolling out from desktop to mobile. They have saas applications which will tie the two platforms together. Being a device manufacturer means very little any more, as mobile hardware becomes a commodity and cheap fake hardware becomes a threat in the mass market. Desktop OS vendors have extensive developer communities and an existing user base to leverage. They also have no interest in furthering or supporting other mobile platforms, which is why they developed their own.

    2. Apple is able to compete in a certain segment because they have limited hardware platform which they control. This means that they will never be mass-market, but this has never been their strategy. They make eye candy for the top end of the market, using top end hardware for users that can afford it. They don’t do mass market, they don’t to low-cost, they don’t to third world. So they can be a lot more focused on their development and integration between their hardware products. I’d like to see them enter the mass market and see how vocal they remain…

    3. Google isn’t tied to hardware and has the greatest saas offering. They just got google voice booted off the iphone because they got there first and Apple can’t compete right now. Their browser runs cross platform and most of their software runs off that. They are device and OS independent, although they are now starting to roll out an OS as well.

    4. Microsoft, unlike apple does cater to mass market. They are hardware independent and have the largest developer base. They have some issues with legacy support because they were the first entrants into the desktop market. They have made good steps into the convergence world where most others haven’t: X-box, media center, desktop OS, windows live and windows mobile. Windows live will no doubt be supported on their mobile phones soon, if not already. Their biggest threat is probably from google from an saas and search point of view, as corporates start seeing that you don’t need to have bloated expensive software and hardware to run a business (google is already selling gmail services to corporates as a domain independent solution)

    5. Traditional handset manufacturers need to do something fast. They are having their hardware cloned and need to get on the online services bandwagon which OS-based platforms are offering. They also need to get onto the desktop as platforms start to converge. Nokia and Samsung are starting to develop their services – not sure about the rest of them. Everybody has email integration, so I can’t see RIM blowing that trumpet for too much longer… Sony has an amazing gaming and home media platform which functions mostly in isolation. Nokia may buy out Palm to keep their footprint in the US but I’m not sure that’s going to help much long term.

    In my mind, Nokia will either need to start providing an OS or work more closely with an OS which doesn’t have a mobile solution. They have bought QT, which has strong relations with KDE and have started the foray into the Linux platform on their mobile devices. They have also signed a deal with Intel which will mean greater co-operation on the Maemo and Moblin platforms between the two.:
    Getting into the netbook market may just be a smart move to try and leapfrog the rest of the competition. I can’t see Symbian being part of this future unfortunately. But they will need to support legacy devices and will most likely take a few years to roll out linux across their range.

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