View Full Version : Is This Nokia, Swanning Off? A Deadly Future Prediction

07-04-2005, 09:20 AM
While everything is nice and happy in the partnership in Symbian, there's alway rumblings about Nokia's influence. It's not as if they would ever leave... But Ewan has taken at look at some of the coding mantra inside Symbian OS, and speculates that Symbian could well have coded a trap door for any partners looking to bale out. Read on...

Isnít Series 60 wonderful. Isnít it great how thereís almost no reference to Symbian OS inside the operating system? After all, you call up programs through a program called the system screen, which just displays a number of icons. There are a number of applications out there that let you change the look and feel of your device to something more suited to your lifestyle. These could be simple Ďthemesí or full blown replacement interfaces.

But the underlying thing here is that the actual operating system (Symbian OS) is as divorced from the user interface as possible. Now this is by design, Symbian stress this at every opportunity to its developers Ė make sure the stuff that handles the screen and inputs is in a separate module to the bit of code that does the stuff, itíll make porting easier. Which is harder to code in the first place, but gives you a huge number of benefits later on when you need to release 40 different versions to cover all the bases.

But thatís not what this is about, Iím looking at the actual handsets. Quick question, do you have a Symbian handset or a Series 60 (UIQ/S80/Foma) handset? I suspect 80% or more of the 25 million handsets users out there would reply with the name of the User Interface rather than the Operating System Ė because as far as they are concerned, that is what runs their phone. Theyíre not bothered about the intricacies of the version numbers, that itís a consortium of companies who put together another company (Symbian) to write the really low-level stuff. No they just want something that works.

Recently announced numbers from Symbian point out that the average revenue per handset they receive has dropped from $6.70 in Q4 2003 to $5.70 in Q4 2004 (why they thought the US Dollar was a sensible thing to use as a base currency for a mainly European based consortium is another matter altogether). Now that number probably reflects a mix of volume discount along with the handset manufacturers needing less technical support for the handsets, but it also points out something else. Symbian OS could rapidly become a commodity Ė something thatís needed for every phone, but something that is available from anywhere.

Replacing the OS with another flavour isnít without itís problems Ė look at the fun PalmSource is having convincing the world Linux is their way forward (but donít forget when Palm switched from Dragonball processors to ARM they effectively had to do a ground-up rewrite) so it is possible with planning.

And itís not as if Nokia havenít dumped an OS writer in a flagship smartphone and went their own way before. If you sit a Nokia 9210 Communicator next to a Nokia 9110, you wonít see a huge amount of difference either in the styling of the device, or in the layout and operation of the applications (beyond the fact the 9110 was a greyscale device). But there is one major difference. The 9210 runs with Symbian OS, and the 9110 uses GeOS. Did the end user care? Certainly not the existing Communicator users, and the Symbian (then EPOC OS) users were more than happy to see Nokia pick up where Psion left off.

Just donít mention what happened to GeOS too loudly inside Symbian. Because for all the ďkeep everything separateĒ in the code mantra, if it was truly separate, thereíd be nothing to stop Nokia swanning off like a Finnish version of Christopher Eccleston. And where would that leave Symbian?

07-04-2005, 10:33 AM
One small thought on the pricing being in US dollars, if Symbian were to change their volume pricing from 5 USD to say 4 EUR (current ex-rates values 5 USD at about 3.87 EUR), the licenses would:

Appear cheaper at first glance
Be cheaper for many of the licensees if they'd hedged their US currency exposure at a higher rate than the current rate (not unlikely)
Completely remove exchange rate transaction costs and risk exposure for European licensees, Swedish (SE) and UK (Sendo) companies would miss this benefit by being outside the Euro
Put a little more cash in the Symbian coffers
Reduce Symbian's exposure to exchange rate fluctuations

Win, win, win, win, win?

07-04-2005, 12:18 PM
Umm... it's not like there'd be much incentive for Nokia to abandon Symbian though, especially when they own 40% of it (far more than anyone else) and tried to buy a majority stake until the other shareholders forced them to stop.

If you go by the same logic, Apple could abandon the Mac OS and Microsoft could abandon the Windows OS, they after all also feature front ends which could be separated from the underlying code (albeit with great difficulty, but the same is true of Symbian).

The trouble with the theory is that unless there's some really good reason for doing so, it seems very unlikely that we will ever see MS leave Windows, Apple leave Mac OS or Nokia leave Symbian.

07-04-2005, 12:24 PM
I'd doubt 80% of Series 60 phone owners would be able to identify the OS as being either Symbian or Series 60. They've got a Nokia phone full stop.

If Nokia changed OS next year how many people would that really affect? The fact is that they don't provide OS upgrades anyway (sending your phone off for firmware upgrades doesn't really count) so I cannot take advantage of any improvements to either the underlying Symbian OS or the Series 60 UI layer. Also whenever I buy an application for my phone it is tied to the IMEI number. After a year is up and I upgrade I'm back to square one. I must have bought Opera 3 times since it first came out.

The result of this is that I have very limited loyalty to the platform. Sure I may like Opera, Profimail etc enough to stick with Symbian but I've got to buy it again so I've not got any investment in the platform. I think this is a major problem for smartphone devices. If every year I was given a new laptop and had to buy all the software again I woulds be much more willing to switch between Windows, OSX and maybe even Linux.

07-04-2005, 12:44 PM
Also whenever I buy an application for my phone it is tied to the IMEI number. After a year is up and I upgrade I'm back to square one. I must have bought Opera 3 times since it first came out.I change phones quite often, and if there is an app that I've bought which' use I'd like to continue, I've just contacted the developer for a new registration code. Has worked so far without any problems.

I've only bought a second copy, if I wanted to keep an app also on a second device at the same time. It has happened only twice so far.

Those apps that I end up not using much, I haven't bothered to ask for new registration codes for.

So, next time, instead of buying the same app again, try the application developer's support contacts (call center or via email or whatever).

07-04-2005, 07:44 PM
From programmer point of view, Symbian OS and Series60 "inseparable". Symbian OS could work with different "UIs" but Series60 couldn't live without SymbianOS. And yes, Series60 still uses base classes "EIKON" from PSION ages. Making separate OS under Series60 is insensible. Programmers will be forced to "reimplement" SymbianOS :rolleyes:... It will cost so many money, even Microsoft not able to make any competitive OS to Symbian.

07-04-2005, 08:37 PM
Interesting post with lots to think about.

I think that it's inevitable that things are going to change because mediocre and demonstrably poor as Windows Mobile is, it's impossible for it not to gain ground because Microsoft has so many people blinded (just look at the Post on Jacek Rutkowski's blog - or here -> ).

Symbian Series60 is going to be around for as long as it is continuing to lead the market with its innovation and, I believe it's obvious that where Symbian leads, Microsoft follows like a little puppy.

08-04-2005, 09:57 AM
If you buy Nokia smartphone, you are paying mostly for the software (=code, usability design, programs) and not as such much for the hardware. Nokia is a software company. People don't realize that because it sells it's software packed into nice-looking hardware (which is from covers to processors supplied by other companies). That is the simple reason why you can't upgrade the OS or the software in your phone to the newer one.

14-04-2005, 01:46 PM
... Still pretty much owned by Nokia.
They would effectively write-off their own investment, an investment they wouldn't have made so recently were that to be the game-plan.
I don't recall Geos being in bed with Nokia to the same extent.
The Microsoft exchange deal announced at 3GSM would appear to support Nokia retaining Symbian. Why license this if you were to move towadrs that platform where it is bundled anyway or are we saying that Nokia would look to Palm maybe to Linux When it is such a dominant situation with Symbian? Ewan - you're being a doom-monger!