No current plans for Samsung Symbian handsets

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In a report from the IFA Consumer Electronics show, Reuters quotes Y H Lee, Samsung Mobile's head of marketing, as saying that the company is concentrating on "Android and Bada for its mobile devices". Samsung see that there is some "specialised demand" for Windows Mobile, but is "not seeing visible demand for Symbian". Reuters further reports that, although the company remains ready to introduce Symbian devices, it currently has has none planned.

The report would appear to rule out the possibility of a Symbian^3 handset from Samsung, but does leave open the possibility of a future Symbian handset (Symbian^4 and beyond). This is consistent with Samsung's previously stated position, but may leave its Symbian users (most notably owners of the Samsung i8910) disappointed. 

In sales terms, Samsung has sold relatively few Symbian handsets (in the low millions), but it has been an important proof point for Symbian to claim the world's two biggest handset manufacturers among its supporters. Samsung continue to participate in the Symbian Foundation at all levels, although the minutes from the various council meetings do suggest that it has recently been less active than other handset members, such as Fujitsu.

Samsung has put little marketing support behind its Symbian products, even when it has a technically very capable handset, which has undoubtedly contributed to the low sales figures. Moreover, users of Samsung's Symbian devices have been plagued by poor support, most notably the (lack of) provision of firmware updates; as a result a significant home-brew firmware community has arisen

The biggest issue facing Samsung's Symbian handsets has been the necessity to compete with Nokia's Symbian handset portfolio. It is no surprise that with Nokia fully committed to the platform, compared to Samsung's platform agnosticism, there were few reasons for operators or consumers to opt for a Samsung Symbian handset. 

While the Symbian Foundation offers a theoretical level playing field in terms of governance and a say over the future direction of the platform, Nokia remains in de facto control, thanks to its dominance in code contribution and package ownership. This is an uncomfortable position for Samsung, given that Nokia is their biggest competitor in the mobile space. However, it is not possible to rule out the possibility of future Symbian devices from Samsung, but the likelihood is largely dependent on market and platform developments.

Going forward, I would anticipate that Samsung will commit fully to the Bada platform, but will maintain an interest in other platforms where there is market demand. Android, for Samsung, is important in the short term because Bada's lack of maturity means it is not yet a comprehensive mobile solutions platform. In the longer term, Samsung is likely to shift as much activity as possible to Bada.

In time, I would expect there to be three mass market 'open' mobile handset platforms: Android, Bada and Symbian. These will be joined by a number of 'boutique' platforms focusing on the higher end of the handset market: iOS, MeeGo, RIM OS, WebOS and Windows Phone 7. Clearly there will be some market cross-over between the two groups and many of these platforms will have, or already have, aspirations outside the handset device segment.

Rafe Blandford, AAS, 2 Sept 2010