View Full Version : Where's Symbian's 'One More Thing' CEO?


Ewan
12-01-2005, 10:45 AM
Yesterday's MacWorld Keynote from Steve Jobs (I mean, a 512mb MP3 Player and an ITX Mini Clone... where's the iNewton?) has got me thinking - why do Apple have such presence, even with non-Mac fans? Is this something Symbian are missing out? Read on...

Everyone who prays to Apple was on tenterhooks yesterday for Steve Jobs MacWorld Keynote. And most of the non-Apple worshippers were watching as well (or at least, trying to keep up on the various websites that made brave attempts at real time coverage). Irrespective of Apple's volume of sales, or number of users, the amount of buzz generated yet again showed Apple punching with the big boys. But not the biggest. With only 14 million OSX users, they're outnumbered almost 2 to 1 by Symbian OS devices. So why can't Symbian generate the same sort of excitement? Cutting edge phones, wi-fi, music devices, every ingredient to make the gadget-hounds salivate is in the OS.

Fairly or unfairly, I'm going to put this down to the CEO. David Levin (and to a certain extent Colly Myers before him) have done a good job taking what was a division of Psion (Psion Software) and grown it to the size it is today. That's a lot of management, guidance and care. But Symbian is past the forming stage, and needs to start storming. Symbian needs passion, needs energy and needs all that to be projected outside of the walls of Symbian and into the general public, the tech heads, and every electronics company this side of Redmond.

In short, I think Symbian needs a CEO that can pull off the "One More Thing" trick at the Symbian Expos.

The Expo (due again October 2005 we assume) should be the same high water mark of the Symbian Year as MacWorld is. There should be product announcements, predictions, energy, passion and drive. What we don't need at the biggest Symbian event of the year is a shareholders report and a nice graph going up the way.

Now okay, the Symbian keynote is never going to be one man and one company. It need Nokia, Sony Ericsson and the other partners on the stage - so they can demo their new products, and make everyone salivate over something as basic as a 512mb Flash MP3 player with no LCD screen (seesh). But my point is Symbian is the glue in all these companies, it's at the base of all the devices, it needs to be evangelising, shouting and making everyone proud to have a Symbian device.

The partners pay Symbian $5 a phone. They also have the OMA DRM Alliance $1 a phone. Unless Symbian can be seen to be an essential part of the handset, and not a commodity added on to the shopping list. They need to build a community themselves, a name, a brand... dare I mention "Intel Inside" and ask where "Symbian Inside" is?

David Levin will be standing down as CEO of Symbian in late March. The Symbian Board needs to take a long hard look at who they appoint to the CEO role. With the recent announcement of Sir Peter Gershon as the Chairman (a man with extensive organisational experience) they don't need another dry face from "The City" to lead Symbian. We need some dynamic, entertaining, captivating personality that people want to follow and be inspired by. The Board and The Managers (and to a certain extent the senior staff) of Symbian know exactly what is needed code wise. It's time to choose someone who complements these skills, not duplicates them.

It's time for a leader that everyone in the world can get behind, not just those inside the business. Itís time to be proud of Symbian.

malbry
12-01-2005, 11:58 AM
I think you should apply Ewan.

Regards,
Malcolm

martinharnevie
12-01-2005, 12:27 PM
This is Symbian's eternal (?) dilemma in a nutshell. Brand or not brand? Marketing towards licencees and partners or towards end users? High visibility or low visibility? Cross-UI recognisability or not?

Part of the reason why the impressive list of licencees joined in in the first place is that they needed to be fully assured that Symbian wouldn't brand itself stronger than them. They didn't want Symbian to become another Microsoft, marginalising the hardware manufacturers, eventually capturing the big margins while they were competing fiercely for the razor-thin leftovers. Because the strength of your brand and the margin you earn will ultimately go hand in hand. That's a law of nature.

So the question is: would a 'Steve Jobs' in Symbian cause more damage than excitement? Would a 'Steve Jobs' make the licencees feel threatened or would it create passion driven Symbian loyalty? Remember just recently how threatened several licencees felt when a Nokia controlling stake was in the cards for a short while. I would think that most licencees still prefer a fairly invisible Symbian - basically a 'OEM' business model technology or an IP licensor for using a more contemporary term.

My personal feelings tells me that Symbian should brand stronger, create that special 'Apple-feeling' and become a household name.

But the question is, is it really wise? Shouldn't Symbian continue its 'stealth-marketing' strategy, keeping its licencees comfortable, and steadily grow in importance until the day, perhaps some 5 years ahead, when a cautious 'Symbian-inside' type branding could be considered?

But having said that, my personal values are with Ewan. Clearly, a more 'Steve Jobs'-type passion in the developer community is missing. Even Psion at its time had more passion. No one could really create such atmosphere but the CEO of Symbian himself.

slitchfield
12-01-2005, 01:11 PM
I think you should apply Ewan.

Regards,
Malcolm

Seconded. Any Symbian shareholders reading this?

I'm sure the 400K salary will help with the moving costs from Scotland 8-)

At the very least, Symbian should consider appointing official 'evangelists' (in the same way PalmOne has), whose entire existence involves getting into relevant forums, meetings and conferences/expos, demonstrating just what Symbian OS is about and what it can do in the right hands.

There are a few people round here that might fit the bill! Isn't that we all do already on a smaller scale?

Steve Litchfield

JimH
12-01-2005, 01:44 PM
I'm not entirely sure that it's in Symbian's long term interests to be 'invisible', sure the licensees and shareholders aren't threatened in any way, and the less clout that Symbian has the less it can charge for licenses.

But putting the boot on the other foot, every single pound that Symbian spend on promoting their brand will also be promoting the licensees and shareholders. I see Symbian's promotion stategies being two forked, to potential licensees and to potential end-users.

To potential licensees they should be saying "if you want to make and sell better phones like the P900/6630/A1000 etc you need the top mobile os, Symbian".

To potential en-users they should be saying "if you're looking for a better phone, ask for the Symbian os, phones using this os (like the P900/6630/A1000) have the most software to do what you want and are the world leaders in blah, blah, blah"

(you may have spotted by now that I don't work in a marketing role).

Who loses out if Symbian move to a more visible position? Not Symbian, nor the shareholders or licensees.

JimH
12-01-2005, 01:59 PM
I'm with Steve on Evangelism, it's a key word and it's not visible enough. Evangelism is something that ought to be coming from the top.

The CEO role is multi-faceted, in my view you need to do at least the following three things:

1. Mostly sensible and polite to the shareholders/licensees
2. Enthusiastic leadership for the staff
3. Showmanship and selling to the World

If you can't find all three roles in one guy then get three guys in for a team job (400k should find you one guy capable of all 3, but still...), I'd suggest a gray man like Levin for role one, someone like Sir John Harvey Jones for role 2, and maybe Peter Kay for role 3.

I can certainly suggest other people seriously capable of at least one of these three roles, and some do live in the far North of the UK...

slitchfield
12-01-2005, 03:18 PM
I'm with Steve on Evangelism, it's a key word and it's not visible enough. Evangelism is something that ought to be coming from the top.

In the absence of a CEO push, there are plenty of people in here (myself included) who, for a retainer plus expenses each month would put paid time into Symbian OS evangelism. As it is, we spend some time in web forums, news sites, etc. and maybe one Expo or show a year. But with a little money, this could be made a lot more systematic and comprehensive, and perhaps with international coverage.

Just a thought.

Steve Litchfield

SwitchBlade
12-01-2005, 03:58 PM
TBH I've always been oblivious to Macworld, but this year the hype was larger than ever. Being interested in computers and technology I have already been assailed by work colleagues on whether the new ipod is worth it (no screen you've got to be kidding), questions on the new cheap mac etc. The main question is why do people who know sweet fa about computers (the girl asking about the iPod thought there was some major difference between an iPod and an mp3 player, there's a branding sucess) know and or/care about what's going on in the world of Mac.

TBH it did make me think of Symbian, it's the largest used OS on mobile phone technology beyond manufacterers own tech on dumbphones, Symbian is the OS used by all the major players in the phone industry, yet no bugger knows it's what powers their phone. I know a fair amount of people running smartphones who have no idea, "it's something like windoze innit?" yeah the tech people know, like the owners of 9xxx and Pxxx devices as they are much more datacentric than the S60 devices but people are buying S60 devices for the same reason as the iPod already, fashion, unfortunately that little apple on the back is getting Apple more attention than the software hidden inside what is to all intents and purposes a Nokia.

The last thing I'd want to see is a "Symbian Inside" or a "Designed for Symbian OS" label plastered on the device, maybe an obligitory in the bootup splash screen like "Nokia, powered by Symbian OS" obviously smaller and less obtrusive to the device manufacterers name but enough to let people know it's there.

On the evangelism front I think a horde of what are effectively paid fanboys probably isn't the best idea, though primed with regular e-mails from Symbian they could tell the world about it. As a one man evangelist band I think Ewan is great for the job after proclaiming OPL to all and sundry from the roof tops, what was a whistfully thought about programming language or yester psion now has much more increased public image than it had during the dev stages. Lets face it if Ewan goes off on one he knows he has friends there to back him up.

Raven
12-01-2005, 04:03 PM
I see quite a bit of 'evangelism' happing already, especially when it comes to S60 phones. Browsing some local (Norwegian) mobile phone forums, I see more and more people saying things like: "Is it using Symbian? No? Then it's not for me, because with Symbian I can do this and this with my phone..."

However, like we were discussing in another thread, I think it might be wise for Symbian and its licensees to try and gain more ground among the Palm and Microsoft enthusiast, by introducing more PDA (Psion?) like devices like the Communicators and the 7710. As it is now, Symbian OS is looked upon as more of a simple mobile phone OS Which is a major misconception I think needs to change. After all, the need for PDAs wont go away, and the current line up of Symbian PDA-phones/smartphones just doesn't cut it for the more demanding users. Especially since most software developers are still only programming for Palm and Win Mobile.

I agree with Ewan that Symbian needs to become more of a household name, as Palm and Windows and Apple and even Linux is today. And one of the ways I see that happening is by producing more advanced Symbian OS products than we currently see on the market, and especially for Symbian and it's licensees to spend more resources in attracting software developers.

I've lost count of just how many rejections I've gotten when contacting developers of a Palm/PPC software application about the possibility of a port to UIQ or Series 80/60. The more honest answers I get is something in the line of: "Our marketing consultants have advised us that there isn't enough profit to be made writing Symbian OS applications". And still you have Symbian phones outselling Palm and MS products by millions...

The Java (J2ME MIDP) community, and the market for ringtones etc., is becoming a billion dollar industry. So why is Symbian OS lagging behind? I think it is in a large part due to the lack of awareness of just what a Symbian powered machine really is capable of. Obviously something needs to be changed here. Perhaps by promoting Symbian as a real handheld OS, and try to get rid of the misinformed "just another proprietary mobile phone OS owned by Nokia" label?

Maybe Symbian Ltd. shouldn't limit its products range to mobile phones only. What about a Symbian powered handheld video player/multimedia device? What about a Symbian powered MP3 player (a la iPod)? A top of the line Symbian powered PDA? A Symbian powered DVD player? A Symbian powered notebook/laptop anyone? :o

I'm just rambling on again, but bottom line is that I really think the Symbian brand name should be promoted much more than it currently is.

Raven
12-01-2005, 04:06 PM
there are plenty of people in here (myself included) who, for a retainer plus expenses each month would put paid time into Symbian OS evangelism. As it is, we spend some time in web forums, news sites, etc. and maybe one Expo or show a year. But with a little money, this could be made a lot more systematic and comprehensive, and perhaps with international coverage.

I'm with you there, Steve. :icon14:

SwitchBlade
12-01-2005, 04:35 PM
However, like we were discussing in another thread, I think it might be wise for Symbian and its licensees to try and gain more ground among the Palm and Microsoft enthusiast, by introducing more PDA (Psion?) like devices like the Communicators and the 7710. As it is now, Symbian OS is looked upon as more of a simple mobile phone OS Which is a major misconception I think needs to change. After all, the need for PDAs wont go away, and the current line up of Symbian PDA-phones/smartphones just doesn't cut it for the more demanding users. Especially since most software developers are still only programming for Palm and Win Mobile.

Lets face it the 9500 already does the job, slap a touch screen in there enlarge the screen and you've got the Psion 10, give it a jotter equivalent, OPL runtimes as standard and let it loose on the world. I'm sure 90% of former Psion owners would be all over it like a rash, probably looking at how to convert all the OPL applications from their Revo/S5 etc.

A userbase is there, not everyone wants a tiny tablet based PDA, they only rule the roost because M$ say it should. I'll be honest here and say that before Psion left the PDA market I only saw a couple of Palm or CE based devices compared to the dozens of Psions i saw people using. Thing here is Symbian wouldn't develop it, so a company would need to come in from somewhere, and persuade symbian to let them use the OS on a data-centric device (though there's nothing stopping them combining a phone onto it tbh) then work on a UI, or black S90 from Nokia, and bring the product to market. The key thing is a startup company convincing people it has the "new Psion" on it's hands.

symbianman
12-01-2005, 09:33 PM
This is Symbian's eternal (?) dilemma in a nutshell. Brand or not brand? Marketing towards licencees and partners or towards end users? High visibility or low visibility? Cross-UI recognisability or not?

Part of the reason why the impressive list of licencees joined in in the first place is that they needed to be fully assured that Symbian wouldn't brand itself stronger than them. They didn't want Symbian to become another Microsoft, marginalising the hardware manufacturers, eventually capturing the big margins while they were competing fiercely for the razor-thin leftovers. Because the strength of your brand and the margin you earn will ultimately go hand in hand. That's a law of nature.

So the question is: would a 'Steve Jobs' in Symbian cause more damage than excitement? Would a 'Steve Jobs' make the licencees feel threatened or would it create passion driven Symbian loyalty? Remember just recently how threatened several licencees felt when a Nokia controlling stake was in the cards for a short while. I would think that most licencees still prefer a fairly invisible Symbian - basically a 'OEM' business model technology or an IP licensor for using a more contemporary term.

My personal feelings tells me that Symbian should brand stronger, create that special 'Apple-feeling' and become a household name.

But the question is, is it really wise? Shouldn't Symbian continue its 'stealth-marketing' strategy, keeping its licencees comfortable, and steadily grow in importance until the day, perhaps some 5 years ahead, when a cautious 'Symbian-inside' type branding could be considered?

The Steve Jobs "just one more thing" act reminds me of James Brown - you know, where at the end of his show his muscians try repeatedly to pull him off stage and he keeps returning to the microphone for more. It was great showbiz when Brown did it in his day, and it's great showbiz now, when Jobs does it.

But let's face it, you're not going to pull a Jobs-like personna out of thin air to head up Symbian. It's not going to happen. Steve Jobs is something of a unique character, and his relationship to Apple, and how he got back there, is unique. The whole Jobs phenomenon is grown organically out of Apple and inseparable from it.

Gil Amelio, former CEO of Apple and the man who brought Jobs back, has never, in my view, received the credit he deserves. Knowing how terribly territorial, image conscious, and ego driven senior executives by nature are, it took real vision and guts for Amelio to do this; the equivilent of throwing yourself on a live hand grenade in order to save the company. Bringing Jobs back was the right and only thing to do - but most CEOs would take the ship down into the briny dark rather than willingly step off the plank to save it.

But this last point is why it's going to be difficult to pull off success for Symbian. As a consortium, Symbian requires not only that its leader have vision and courage, but also that those who lead its member companies have similar courage - and similar vision. At the very least, Symbian requires a leader who can sell whatever vision he has to the heads of these member companies. And him (or her), I think, Symbian has some reasonable prospect of finding.

As Apple amply demonstrates, branding really is everything, or almost everything. Making a quality product is important, but without deep brand awareness it means nothing. A company like Apple can sail along on its brand equity for a good long time. The hoopla and excitement generated by a stripped down computer and a flash player without a screen is a perfect example of this. They'll sell millions of them.

The synergy created by, for example, "Nokia, Powered by Symbian OS", could be amazing. The real question - assuming you have a leader who can pull it off - is how to get there.

Apple leveraged its deserved popularity among creative types - designers, architects, artists, and others - to give itself the halo of rightousness it has today. Similarly, Symbian could conceivably take stock of its own strengths as an OS to generate cache among users and prospective users.

It seems to me - and I'm just a casual, non-tech user - that two of the major strengths of Symbian are how efficient it is at utilizing resources, and how easy it is to write applications for it. This would seem to point to the world of IT managers, who respect such things. Why not select a group of IT managers and give them handsets to play with? This could generate some buzz in the IT world.

Since Symbian has virtually written the book on convergence - been a pioneer there - it could also have great appeal, as a brand, to non-tech users, such as business people and even artists.

I'm actually a professional photographer, and I find the ability to use a handheld device for multiple functions very useful and interesting. It means a lot to me to have a device - one that I always have with me - that I can use as a camera.

For some time now I've been thinking that it would be great to take, say, a Nokia 6630 or Sony Ericsson S700, on year-long, round the world photo shoot. Symbian and one of its licensees could give serious thought to sponsering something like this among several photographers or travelers. Maybe co-sponser it with someone like Lonely Planet, and feature the results, as they happen, on a website. Such a project could create lots of excitement at very little cost.

Another possibility is to give handsets to interested, high-profile artists - maybe produce a magazine and/or art shows, demonstrating what they've produced using the devices.

These are just a few ideas. Perhaps they are naive. In any event, they put the details way ahead of the broad-brush need for branding and a leader with the vision to see it and make it happen. In an increasingly Microsoft world - and that's the one we live in, like it or not - this is what it's going to take. It's all or nothing.

Pass the word. :listen:

symbianman
13-01-2005, 12:12 AM
Anyway, Ewan, I for one think you make some important points. I hope that those who matter most think so, too. (Btw, I've linked (http://mobileeyes.blogspot.com/) to you over at my weblog. Hope you don't mind.)

martinharnevie
13-01-2005, 12:15 AM
But with a little money, this could be made a lot more systematic and comprehensive, and perhaps with international coverage.

Totally agree on this. Tiny sums of money (in relation to a CEO salary) put in the right pockets could make tremendous difference.

Even a small sum invested in the OPL team could make tremendous difference.

martinharnevie
13-01-2005, 12:48 AM
I think it might be wise for Symbian and its licensees to try and gain more ground among the Palm and Microsoft enthusiast, by introducing more PDA (Psion?) like devices like the Communicators and the 7710.

I actually think there is a lot of truth in this from a loyalty-branding perspective. These devices might not be extremely profitable per se (though I think they will if they are targeting mobile professionals), but they will have a tremendous impact on overall Symbian loyalty/branding/passion etc. I wrote a few chapters (chapters 6-8) about this in the netBook Pro Symbian paper more than a year back:

http://www.dp.com.my/General_download/nBPro_BusinessCase_012_010104.pdf

One of the arguments put forward is that Symbian would gain significant positive loyalty effect if they promoted a few low volume niche devices. And the loyalty would translate into overall higher unit numbers, reduced churn (here defined as users moving to other OS platforms) and increased penetration of the higher margin enterprise space.

The 9500 and 7710 do not entirely fulfil this role for a couple of reasons. The cancelled 9700 (?) might have had. (Series 90 based on Series 60 is not good news from this perspective, one would have wished it's the other way around, but of course I haven't seen the end product so I shouldn't say.)

Raven
13-01-2005, 01:17 AM
The 9500 and 7710 do not entirely fulfil this role for a couple of reasons. The cancelled 9700 (?) might have had. (Series 90 based on Series 60 is not good news from this perspective, one would have wished it's the other way around, but of course I haven't seen the end product so I shouldn't say.)

Series 90 isn't based on Series 60 though, it has more similarities with Series 80. But from now on there wont be any more Series 90 devices, as the UI is to be merged with Series 60 (http://www.series60.com/?action=showNewsArticle&newsId=118&archive=true&hot=1).

There is still a rumour floating around about a Communicator with a 640x320 pixels touchscreen based on this new Series 60 platform. Which might be named 9700 (there never was one officially that got cancelled). I doubt we'll see it anything this year though.

Jpop
13-01-2005, 01:31 AM
If we can't get Steve Jobs to buyout everything Psion and Symbian (I wrote about this a few years ago and still think it could have produced far advanced Psion products and the synch factor between Psion PDAs and Macintoshes could be blissful) then I vote for Steve Litchfield as chief evangelist.

Apple itself never would have made it without Steve Jobs and Guy Kawasaki leading the way as smoke and mirror evangelists when there was little product to back it up. I am waiting for Nokia 9300 to ship, not because I so much want a phone/PDA but because of the clamshell form factor and the (regretably now "dumbed-down" but still better than most anything else) Symbian/Psion OS.

We need a "Steve" of our own. Pay him well and get him on the road somehow.

J

martinharnevie
13-01-2005, 01:44 AM
Series 90 isn't based on Series 60 though, it has more similarities with Series 80. But from now on there wont be any more Series 90 devices, as the UI is to be merged with Series 60 (http://www.series60.com/?action=showNewsArticle&newsId=118&archive=true&hot=1).


I'm of course aware of that. I was referring to recent statements from Jorma & gang that Series 90 might be merged with Series 60 using the Series 60 code base rather than the Series 90/80 code base. This would mean Ckon influenced extensions to the Avkon library rather than moving Avkon stuff over to the Ckon library.

Raven
13-01-2005, 02:00 AM
Well, it might not be such a bad thing if you consider application compatibility. It'll certainly be interesting to see the end product of the merger though, and if they will in fact continue with the communicator form factor or go with the usual tablet mode (a la 7710).

martinharnevie
13-01-2005, 03:25 AM
Well, it might not be such a bad thing if you consider application compatibility.

That's a good point. Difficult one overall. Ckon is more straightforward than Avkon - the underlying reason for instance why OPL is in full release on Ckon (and almost full release on Uikon) but not on Avkon - but on the other hand Avkon has more applications running (and certainly an order of magnitude more devices sold).

Ben Greenwood
14-01-2005, 05:12 PM
They needed Hans Snook, back when Levin took over from Colly Myers. I seem to remember the name being booted around at the time but it never came to anything....Snook would have been perfect, a CEO with a genuine industry track record, but also a figurehead/personality......someone who your average Sun reader could identify.......

Symbian has always appeared confused as to how it markets itself as a company,
admittedly within the constraints of its ownership structure its must be a political minefield to navigate, and one which has probably lost a few folks their jobs.

However in the recent past there has been no big picture vision to the company , the Smartphone show despite becoming increasingly slick in how its run as an event, was really very hollow in terms of the big message it put across this year. The key Symbian news seemed to be a few more phones are out there and we wrote a booklet with the carphone warehouse - both interesting, but hardly the drumbeat to rouse the industry.....