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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Symbian - quick thoughts on the Foundation, Samsung and the future

I was at the Symbian smartphone show in London yesterday, meeting various people and trying to take the temperature of the S60 community, in the light of yesterday's announcement that Apple has now sold 6.9m iPhone 3G's.

The good news - the show seemed quite busy, and I was impressed that Samsung seems to have a much more solid committment to the platform, with a portfolio of 6 phones on display. Also, it's looking like WiFi is becoming a default for inclusion in the majority of non-Japanese Symbian devices going forward. And the early versions of the touchscreen Nokia "Tube" seemed pretty good.

Also, some demos and discussions I had around the new FreeWay IP and connection-manager layer in the OS's future 9.5 version put the platform in a strong position for the future multi-bearer environment. It should be possible to implement per-application priorities and policies, for example on using WiFi vs. 3G.

The less good news - still no news on any HSUPA-capable Symbian devices for now (although it's also in v9.5). And enterprise applications and capabilities seemed to have been downplayed compared with previous years. And I was very aware that Nokia seems to have a multiplicity of developer platforms and sub-platforms - S60, Java, Flash, Silverlight, the ex-Trolltech Qt, Widgets and so forth. (I didn't see that much evidence of Silverlight at the show, so that might be the weakest link).

The unknown - the change of ownership, and the move to the open-source Symbian Foundation is still a bit confusing. The timeframe for the code to be made available to Foundation members is early next year. One developer said to me "We think it will be really good, but we're not sure exactly how it will work".

A couple of possible upsides cropped up:

- Having things like the connection manager in open source should mean that enterprising 3rd-parties might be able to create things like DLNA-over-3G, or smarter custom connection clients that could be made femtocell-aware.
- In theory, someone (Samsung?) might persuade Qualcomm to develop a platform to support Symbian OS devices, without needing to involve Nokia, or having more legions of lawyers trooping between San Diego and Helsinki.
- Hopefully we'll see someone develop a "lite" version of the OS, without all the zillions of under-used applications cluttering up the menus. (I mean really, who uses video editing on a phone?)

Overall - there wasn't as much iPhone/Android -induced despair as I'd imagined, although plenty of people were telling me that's where a lot of developers expect to make money in the short term. I'd say that Symbian shipments will likely see a shaky 6-9 months, probably with a bit of over-done pessimism, but should hopefully pick up again later in 2009.

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