Feeds

Symbian's Secret History: The battle for the company's soul

How Nokia took charge, and never let go

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Could Symbian have led the industry?

This has been a very different story to write and research than my exploration of Psion. Psion pulled out of a market it created quite dramatically, and recriminations still fly. I interviewed many key executives for these articles and it was hard to find blame being apportioned here. Symbian, by contrast to Psion, has shipped in some 400 million handsets, which is the kind of "failure" many companies would wish to have. But Symbian's role has been one of an important component supplier rather than industry leader, as the team originally envisaged. And since 2001 its fortunes have been tied to one company - Nokia - which last year declared that a Linux-based system rather than Symbian would be its high-end future platform of choice. It was not Nokia, but Apple that eventually created markets for mobile applications and rich content.

“I don’t buy that Symbian is successful today. Most people don’t use it as a smartphone OS and don’t use the smart features,” says East.

Could Symbian have shaken off the grip of its owners? At least one former executive thinks so.

"Very early on we wanted to avoid becoming an industry co-operative - like the Milk Marketing Board. We wanted to avoid becoming a bag of bits. But that's what happened," says Juha Christensen today. If Symbian had been able to IPO, it could have escaped the clutches of its owners - and even challenged Nokia to like it or lump. "Where would it have found another operating system from?" he wonders.

Others think that's fanciful. "Would Nokia ever have helped no name manufacturers bring out a leading edge smartphone?" asks one former executive rhetorically.

"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.”®

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

More from The Register

next story
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Canadian ISP Shaw falls over with 'routing' sickness
How sure are you of cloud computing now?
Don't call it throttling: Ericsson 'priority' tech gives users their own slice of spectrum
Actually it's a nifty trick - at least you'll pay for what you get
Three floats Jolla in Hong Kong: Says Sailfish is '3rd option'
Network throws hat into ring with Linux-powered handsets
Fifteen zero days found in hacker router comp romp
Four routers rooted in SOHOpelessly Broken challenge
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
PwC says US biz lagging in Internet of Things
Grass is greener in Asia, say the sensors
Ofcom sees RISE OF THE MACHINE-to-machine cell comms
Study spots 9% growth in IoT m2m mobile data connections
O2 vs Vodafone: Mobe firms grab for GCHQ, gov.uk security badge
No, the spooks love US best, say rival firms
Ancient pager tech SMS: It works, it's fab, but wow, get a load of that incoming SPAM
Networks' main issue: they don't know how it works, says expert
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.