Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nokia will hold on to its Symbian operating system, for now anyway

Nokia says it will hold on to its Symbian operating system, for now anyway, as the company decides what it wants to do next with its OS that is now starting to show some age when compared to Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS.

Symbian won't quite be making its exit yet even though Nokia is temporarily switching to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 as its primary smartphone platform. Things are a bit up in the air for now at Nokia, but CEO Stephan Elop promises to change that.

"Just because we're changing our direction in terms of smartphone platform, it doesn't mean that the existing platform will be abondoned," said Vlasta Berka, general manager for Nokia Singapore. "We still have obligations to our users, mobile app developers, business partners, and customers."

According to Nokia, there are currently about 200 million Symbian users around the world (+ or -). The handset maker said it expects to sell about another 150 million Symbian devices before 2013.

"Symbian is here to stay. Symbian will still be around, but it's just going to go somewhere around the corner," Berka added. The latest E7 smartphone features a 4-inch Amoled display, physical Qwerty keyboard, 8-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash, 16 GB of onboard memory and a suite of enterprise solutions. It retails at US $989 in Singapore.

Berka also tried to dissipate some fears that Nokia would cease support for the Symbian platform in the near future. He said over 50 improvements, from visual to performance enhancements, will be rolled out for the rest of 2011.

Nokia's Chief Executive Stephen Elop last week noted that the Qt development environment that is used for Symbian devices would not be usable on Windows Phone 7 applications. He said this was to ensure that differing platforms don't confuse developers or consumers.

According to Gartner, Symbian's market share dropped from 46.9 percent in 2009 to 37.6 percent in 2010.

Google's Android operating system is still continuing its strong push in mobile operating systems, even though Apple's iOS is still as popular as ever. Apple sells its iPhones and iPads at a price that commands a premium when compared to its rivals, so as smartphone growth increasingly shifts to emerging markets with less money to spend, lower cost phones powered by Google's Android OS should continue to increase the OS' market share. Apple's global market share was flat in recent market surveys performed by Gartner and others, so the above theory actually makes sense.

The insert below offers a snapshot of Gartner's most recent global market share results:

The numbers from Gartner are fairly obvious. Android is taking away a good chunk of market share from every other smartphone vendor, including Apple's iOS. While the Cupertino, CA company has fared relatively better than rivals Research In Motion, Nokia and especially Microsoft, its total market share is still falling behind when compared to Android and that is what's important here.

But it's relevant to note that market share numbers sometimes aren't always what they seem at first glance. The numbers from Gartner and other rival research firms are based on the number of total units sold. While Nokia might be dominant in the number of units sold, the company has also aggressively pushed lower-cost phone options and has struggled to a viable high-end competitor to the iPhone with mixed results.

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