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Android will sink Symbian

It's the UI, stupid, analyst warns

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Symbian needs to cut to the chase and sort out its user interface, the organisation has been warned.

The call comes from Gartner "distinguished" analyst Nick Jones who points out that while Symbian's still colossal market share is vanishing at an ever greater rate, the organisation behind the operating system still doesn't appear to have figured out why.

It's the UI, stupid, to coin a phrase.

That's Jones' argument, at any rate. Apple and Android deliver much better user experiences, and while Symbian 3 is a step in the right direction, phones equipped with Symbian 4 won't be out until well into 2011.

Apple is making a virtue out of touchscreen ease of use. Android is trying to do the same, and if it's slightly less good at this kind of thing than Apple is, at least it has many more manufacturers lined up to not only promote Android-branded handsets but also add alternative GUIs to it.

The Symbian Foundation, on the other hand, appears more obsessed with what's going on under the hood, says Jones.

He's right. Symbian the OS grew separately from the UI, a conscious plan to allow phone vendors to differentiate their devices at the user interface level but have a single, well-developed OS underneath. That made sense when the only serious rivals were basic proprietary OSes in feature phones and Windows Mobile - say no more; look how its clunky, old fashioned UI has sunk it - and allowed Symbian the OS to develop without worrying about then unnecessary things like visuals.

Now that approach has turned round to bite it on the rear end. As Symbian's roadmap shows - it talks about audio policies, cloud integration, better multitasking, multiple personalised home screens, HDMI and Wi-Fi - the Symbian Foundation is stuck thinking about what's going on behind the screen not on it.

But it's largely what's on the screen that, at the moment, is selling handsets, smartphones in particular.

Jones reckons that this inability to move beyond the methodology of the past will be Symbian's undoing, and likens the Symbian Foundation's tinkering to "re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic".

And if Apple doesn't sink it, Android certainly will. ®

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