How many phones per day does it take to change the media?

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One of the things that first aiders are taught is triage – the initial assessment of patients to work out which ones have a genuine problem and need to be looked at as soon as possible; and which ones are shouting loudly because they’ve broken a nail. In the online noise of social media and blogging, that triage skill is just as vital, because the companies making the loudest noises aren’t always telling the whole story.

Not on life supportI’m looking specifically at the recent “we’re bigger than you, oh no you’re not” between Google’s Android OS and Apple’s iOS. You might recall this all started with Android shouting about their 200,000 new Android handsets going into circulation each day. Apple, at their recent iPod event, trumped that and said they were on 230,000 a day, and Google must be doing some creative counting of upgrades to reach their number.

And this tit-for-tat is happily taking up all the time and ink (ahem) in the blogosphere. Are they forgetting basic triage? Who’s not making all the noise? Who's sitting quietly in the corner not being noticed?

I’ll tell you who. Symbian.

Put aside the numbers from Mountain View and Cupertino, because Southwark is well ahead, with a shade less than 300,000 Symbian phones per day being shifted towards consumers (and the numbers have been close to that for many, many quarters, this isn't a recent jump).

Even with roughly 10% of that number as DoCoMo devices, that leaves S60 on 270,000 daily units, well ahead of the two American rivals. But putting this number into an article that’s trying to pitch Android and iOs as the only two candidates would lead to a lot of explanation and isn’t the easiest sell to a commissioning editor.

Either that or Symbian is powering a new class of “bad smartphone” that the industry is trying to ignore in favour of “good smartphones” that people don’t mind talking about. You know, the good smartphones that are really expensive, or require a £50 a month contract for two years, which means you have to keep mentally justifying the purchase.

As opposed to the "bad" smartphones that are available at a reasonable cost to pretty much anyone who can pick up a Pay as you Go phone – the flexible Nokia 5230 has sold upwards of ten million handsets and carries the majority of features you'd expect from a smartphone. The 5230 has as much right to be regarded as a competent smartphone as the mid range Android devices and arguably the 3G and 3GS iPhones.

And if the iPod Touch can be a great iOS device without a cellular chip at all, the 5230 can certainly manage to be a smartphone with cellular but without Wi-fi. Given that I’ve used those on a number of trips now, please don’t bring it up as a problem for real world usage!

So why does it matter? For two reasons – and the first is one we’ve touched on a lot, and that’s the PR war. Nokia is being shouted out of the media conversation, and while the triage analogy is nice, they do need to get a bit more aggressive. Perhaps the powder is being left dry for a big Nokia World announcement about numbers and they think they can get better effect bunching the announcement in with a handset launch or two. I’m not sure that’s the right strategy but it’s far from in appropriate if that’s what is going on.

The more important reason is simply the volume fight. How many handsets are out there, how many devices can programmers and developers reach, how many screens can content producers and advertisers access?

Even if you put aside the heritage of Symbian and the vast numbers of compatible S60 3rd Edition devices already out there, even if you look at just the S60 5th Edition devices right now; even if you were to reset the numbers and start each platform from zero… each week there are 200,000 more Symbian phones out there than iPhones, and almost 500,000 more than Android.

Symbian is not being caught and left behind, in terms of raw numbers they are pulling away by a significant percentage every single day.


Angry BirdsAnything you can do, I can do better...

Yet again it feels like the American media (and to a certain extent the UK media) focusing on the shiniest objects that are shouting the loudest about how well they think they are doing, while the rest of the world knows a secret that is still to be realised by certain commentators.

And Nokia are set to kick things into a higher gear with next week’s Nokia World. Left behind? Last chance? Death throes?

Think again.

-- Ewan Spence, Sept 2010.