"Symbian's management team really didn't understand the tigers it had by their tails," says one leading engineer. "They were woefully inadequate to manage the politics of the companies whose futures they were trying to mold."
But where Symbian pioneered the smartphone field, others seem to have learned valuable lessons.
"Symbian failed because it did licensing first. But if you bring a product to market, then license it to others, those licensees will come,” says Matt Millar. “All they needed to do was work with Nokia, it was world's number one. If you were an OS licensee you'd have given your back teeth to work with Nokia. You just needed to sit down, focus, and create some amazing products with them and then take those and license them to other people.”
Google has learned the lesson with Android, he says.
“Symbian were too socialist, and not capitalist enough."
Nolan says: "It was a huge opportunity, but we never did deliver on the promise. We never could. We did a deal with the devil."
In the past 10 years, only Google has been able to license a smartphone operating system, and it did so in the wake of the iPhone. Android may yet experience the commoditization and fragmentation Symbian wanted to avoid.
Symbian was to remain an important industry force for a decade, but would never fulfill the ambition of being a new kind of company – an industry owned council designing the future.
You can’t blame Symbian for that, East says today – as much as industry inertia.
"That’s as much down to the operators as anyone else. They prevented Nokia from doing an end-to-end solution – that’s what Apple has been able to do. They wanted to do that themselves.”
Symbian: The Secret History
Published by Steve Litchfield at
Well worth bookmarking for late evening reading over a beer or two is Andrew Orlowski's epic two part essay on the history of Symbian from creation in 1998 up to near the present day. Interviewing a number of past employees, admittedly, there's a strong aftertaste of 'these are all the bits that went wrong' and there's little in the way of acknowledgement of success stories, but Orlowski's text is readable and well researched. Here's part one: Dark Star, covering Symbian's creation and here's part two: The battle for Symbian's soul.