1.5 billion Series 40 phones, plus half a billion Symbian too

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The news that Nokia just handed over its one and a half billionth Series 40 phone was interesting - and impressive - and got me thinking and fact-checking. Just how many Symbian-powered smartphones have been sold, in total, i.e. in the last decade? Turns out it's now well over 500 million, i.e. over half a billion Symbian smartphones have already been sold and are... out there in the world somewhere. Some thoughts below.

1.5 billionFrom the Series 40 news

Mary McDowell, Executive Vice President for Mobile Phones at Nokia, said: "We are incredibly proud to reach this milestone. Having 1.5 billion Series 40 devices sold is a hard-to-reach mark, let alone one attainable in a single line of products. At a time when we are maintaining our commitment to connecting the next billion customers around the world - it is gratifying to consider how Series 40 devices have made mobile technology accessible and help continue to change people's lives for the better."

Congratulations, Series 40.

Going back through the news archives and checking figures with industry watchers, according to our calculations, we passed the half billion sales point for Symbian last Autumn. With multiple manufacturers contributing to these figures over the years (albeit with Nokia dominating), and with some 'closed' Symbian-powered phones like the FOMA devices in Japan and the older Ericsson R380, the actual counting is obviously less clear cut, plus Symbian as an organisation no longer exists, which is perhaps why noone has yet remarked on the milestone.

But still. Half a billion Symbian smartphones.

The next question is, I think, how many of these are still in use, i.e. what's the installed base across the world? With the tech press loving to dismiss Symbian as being a dinosaur, it shouldn't be forgotten that dinosaurs were often very, err... large. And so it proves with Symbian's installed base. 

Now, obviously, there's no point in counting every last phone back to the Nokia 9210 Communicator, Sony Ericsson P800 and Nokia 7650 (for example). There comes a point where smartphones are too old to be practical - or will simply be broken. In the chart below I've chosen to go back to 2006, where Symbian OS 9 and S60 3rd Edition were being sold for the first time and where the last great Series 60 phones were selling in high volume - think Nokia N70, etc. It's a fair bet that everything from this point on is still in use in some form, barring breakage, even as another family member's device these days or passed on down through the second hand market.

Here then is the Symbian smartphone installed base, 2006-2011, compared to those for other mobile OS, for direct comparison:

At the very least, such a chart is a reminder to anyone looking to dismiss Symbian as irrelevant in 2012 - in addition to still selling at the rate of getting on for twenty million smartphones per quarter today, the installed base of Symbian users across the world is enormous, dwarfing even that of iOS and Android (though they are gradually closing the gap, of course - I estimate Android's installed base will exceed Symbian's sometime in 2013).

Anyway, even though there's no Symbian Ltd or (active) Symbian Foundation to trumpet the news anymore, why not raise your glass of beer or wine today and drink a toast to the half billion mark? Achieved in just over a calendar decade, too, in a pioneering smartphone world where Symbian was the behemoth.


Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 28 January 2012