All About Symbian - Nokia (S60) and Sony Ericsson (UIQ) smartphones unwrapped

Old 09-02-2011, 08:38 PM
bat400 bat400 is offline
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Question Is Symbian^3 the problem, or just the UI?

Evening all,

As I understand it, Symbian^3 the operating system does not need to have the s60v5-style interface; it could have any number of different user interfaces and Symbian provides the back-end processing.

Looking at the criticism of Symbian^3, it almost exclusively revolves around the interface: web browser, clunky graphics, poor calendar/agenda, unresponsive dialog boxes, widget layout, on-screen keyboards, dialer etc. On the other hand, the underlying operating system is often singled out for praise: excellent multitasking, graphic acceleration, audio/video performance, bluetooth compatibility, VOIP services, network/telephony performance etc.

I understand why Nokia decided to make the Symbian^3 user interface look like s60v5 - it saved on reinventing the wheel, gave designers something easy to aim at, and offered current users something they were familiar with, so why is the UI so widely derided? I guess some or all of the following apply:
  • People who were already using s60v5 were looking for something new and innovative, especially after the negative N97 experience.
  • People who weren't familiar with s60v5 would see something which seemed like a very poor relative of the flashier iOS and Android UIs.
  • Those considering a return to Nokia and Symbian would see a UI which didn't seem to have moved on from when they last owned a Nokia.

So what should Nokia do? I think the first thing would be to recognise what works really well about their Symbian^3 phones: first up would have to be the excellent hardware and the rock solid underlying operating system. Some of the UI elements (mostly stuff which has come from BetaLabs) are worth keeping as well - Maps, BigScreen, parts of the music player, Bubbles, Situations etc. They need to also look at what UI features customers (rather than market analysts, programmers, bloggers, fanboys etc.) think work well across a variety of mobile touch-based UIs. Having done this I think Nokia should then set about designing an all-new UI to sit on top of Symbian^3 the OS.

What would this achieve?
  • Perception is nine tenths of the mindshare: if people see a new slick interface they think it's a brilliant new operating system - Android is just a Linux distribution but the reason some people think it's amazing is because of the interface - they don't care about the back end. If Android has shipped with an X-Windows style interface people wouldn't have given it a second look, and that is part of why Symbian^3 is suffering.
  • Current users would not feel as abandoned or disenfranchised: one of the main problems with Nokia has been people feeling that once the next device has come out Nokia stops supporting their device. By building on a common subsystem (as they seem to have done with Symbian^3 devices) and then focussing on developing the UI over time, each user feels their device is "keeping up" rather than stagnating. The iPhone is a case in point - a lot of the flaws in early iOS versions were forgiven when they were addressed in later versions, and this kept users loyal.
  • Potential purchasers would see that products are supported and continually developing: part of what attracts people to Android is that they will be able to upgrade to the next version at some point and as such their phones will not stagnate. This in turn is part of what puts people off Nokia and Symbian - the perception is that if there are faults with the phone they will never be addressed, and there aren't likely to be any goodies coming further down the phone's lifespan either.

There are some signs that Nokia may have moved towards this sort of strategy already; S^4 being shelved in favour of continuing to develop S^3, much more platform commonality in S^3 devices, the increasing frequency and high quality of BetaLabs output, and even the fact that the PR2.0 update was talked about even before the first S^3 device had been released (when has any Nokia phone had a web browser upgrade during its lifespan? - if PR2 happens and brings a significantly different web browser experience it will be fairly unique in the history of Nokia's mobile device UIs). These all hint at a model where the user benefits from innovation in a rapid and effective way rather than having to accept that their phone is like it is and is just going to stay that way. Nokia achieved this to some extent with the Nokia N95, and that was a very successful phone.

The current range of S^3 phones are so close to being serious competitors, but if Nokia want the marketshare and mindshare back they have to start managing how their products are perceived by users, businesses, the media and online communities. A good start would be to challenge the preconception that S^3 is a tired, outdated, clunky OS by improving its user interface until it outclasses those on the competitors' devices.

I'd be interested to know others' thoughts. In the light of the recent "burning platform memo" reports, it will be revealing to see how Elop sees the future of Symbian on 11 Feb.


Old 10-02-2011, 02:54 AM
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ironass ironass is offline
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The answer to your question has been given in this leaked memo from Nokia's CEO, Stephen Elop.

Amongst other things, he says...

"...Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements..."
N8 Release PR1.2 Software version 014.002 date 2011-03-01 Product code 0598980 Manufactured Finland

Old 10-02-2011, 03:25 AM
kmdub kmdub is offline
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I think you make a lot of valid points. The core of Symbian is not "ancient" like some believe and is actually pretty well designed. I, like you, think it is what's on top that is the problem, whether that be design, functionality, or speed, those are all discussions in themselves. I think there have been some very poor decisions made in regard to the platform, which leads us to where we are today.

Old 10-02-2011, 02:03 PM
torrentblock torrentblock is offline
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upgrades/updating is key to the OS. little improvements go a long way.

i love my C7. i came back to nokia after being away for a while.

i simply can't live without Sports Tracker and Ovi maps is superb and works seamlessly on my phone.

what they need to work on is getting updates out. if they say the updates are coming out, bring them out. pronto. I'm still waiting for pr1.1 on my C7. if you're not bringing it out to everyone, shaddapayaface. what you don't know doesn't hurt you!

good post above btw.


problem, symbian3

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