back to article Nokia to cull Symbian in 2012

Nokia says it will replace Symbian with its Maemo Linux by 2012. All high-end N series multimedia devices will be running the Linux OS by then. Rubbing salt in the wounds of longtime Epoc developers, it disclosed the news to a meetup of Maemo enthusiasts – Ben Smith reports at The Really Mobile Project blog. X series and E …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Best?

    Nice to have comments on an Orlowski article!

    "Especially since Symbian still offers the best kernel and middleware stack for mobiles"

    Citation needed! But developers hate Symbian, anyway, and the devices aren't exactly bringing in the punters, so the term "best" is disputable in a number of ways.

    EPOC's (erm, Symbian's) limitations might have made sense in the days of 18MHz ARM7 CPUs and 4MB RAM where the system had to be tuned for responsiveness, but it's clear that the restrictions are quite archaic these days, and even though they're slapping a Qt layer on top, you have to wonder what the Symbian technology really brings to the table any more.

    Whether Maemo will ever live up to expectations is another matter entirely, but the future isn't Symbian - the market has seen to that.

  2. Mark Wilcox

    Misleading title, but largely accurate

    It would seem reasonable to read from the public statements that Nokia are still talking about using Symbian in FAR MORE devices in 2012 than they are currently doing now, so "Nokia to cull Symbian in 2012" is extremely misleading.

    They also seem to be planning to use Maemo in FAR MORE devices than they do now. All of which implies that they expect to use Series 40 far less, but continue to run a multi-platform strategy. Lets see if that turns out to be the case.

    Have you any reference to Nokia denying that they'd replace Symbian with Maemo "at the top end". I don't believe they did, just denied they'd be replacing Symbian with Maemo completely and re-affirming their commitment to Symbian.

    Since both Symbian & Maemo are both getting total UI re-writes from scratch with Qt, it seems a little early to call relative portfolio/market shares. Plus Maemo is currently a "one device at a time" platform, rather than a true multi-device platform, and there's a lot of work to be done to make the transition.

    To say they're making the switch to Qt 5 years too late is probably true but a little on the harsh side. Qt will be shipping in devices next year and powering their native UIs in early 2011. In early 2006 Nokia was still king in smartphones and everyone was praising the N95 - iPhones and Android were nowhere to be seen. It's extremely rare for a market leader to radically change their offering to fend off as-yet unseen competition.

    I don't believe Nokia has an inept record in UIs at all - the Series 40 UI was the best in the world for years, and the original S60 design was sound, it just got over-complicated with far too many features added badly over time and trying to make it seemlessly extend to a touch-based UI was always doomed to failure. Services is another matter - I only hope these are just the pains of a company fairly new to the market!

    The Series 80 and 90 UIs needed to die because there was too much developer fragmentation - it isn't necessary to build an entirely new UI framework in order to differentiate device UIs. S60 just wasn't flexible enough to be the one-size-fits-all option.

    All that said, I generally agree with the theme of the piece. The best article on Symbian/Nokia/Maemo I've seen on the Register for a long time!

  3. Neil 7

    Not what I thought I was told at the same event

    Unfortunately I think the author of the bog has confused what he was told.

    I was told there would be no more N-Series phones based on Symbian between now and 2012 (apart from those devices presumably close to release), ie. Nokia are not planning to drop Symbian from N-Series by 2012 (as the bog suggests), it's already been dropped completely - but it's only temporary.

    My guess is that once Symbian^4 is ready then Nokia will resume (or at least consider resuming) shipment of Symbian based N-Series devices (ie. those smartphone devices that need lots of eye candy). That is, until 2012 when Symbian^4 should be ready, Maemo will be the multimedia platform of choice for Nokia and Symbian will be the workhorse for those devices where bling is not a requirement.

    After 2012 I would expect Maemo and Symbian to merge to a greater or lesser extent.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    3 years...

    is plenty of time for Nokia to change it's mind half a dozen times.

    The Symbian Foundation is now standalone and I think they'll make a far better job of running and developing the operating system going forward. There's so much to recommend Symbian as an OS that after SF finish fixing it, I half expect Nokia to adopt it all over again.

    It'll take the best part of a decade and many more millions before Maemo is up to scratch versus Symbian, so I'm not all that worried.

  5. Neil 7

    Years of debugging

    Everyone bangs on about how reliable, stable and fully debugged Symbian is but one of the Nokia guys I spoke to last night had an N97 (not mini) and an N900. In the two days he had had his N900 the N97 needed to be power cycled 4 times, while the N900 had been solid as a rock. Go figure.

    Perhaps the years spent debugging the Linux kernel have been more productive than the time spent debugging Symbian. Power management in the Maemo Linux Kernel is also rather good.

  6. Andy Watt

    "to merge"???

    "After 2012 I would expect Maemo and Symbian to merge to a greater or lesser extent."

    How the hell is that going to happen? And why would they want to? Surely symbian would be thrown away and maybe some of the bling re-architected on top of Maemo?

    Oh - and Nokia - only Moto are bigger arsewits than you, but not by much.

  7. Coruscating Frenzy

    @Years of debugging

    As someone who spent time defect-fixing at the Symbian gulag in Cambridge, I can tell you that there is no feedback loop between those who fix the defects and those who introduce them. So the years of debugging invested in the Symbian OS never led to any improvements or increased stability. The idea that their code monkeys had anything to learn from their testers and defect-fixers was just too much heresy.

    They could have done with a couple of experienced people at the Engineering Manager level. What they got were some political chimps who liked to talk bollocks about football and play favourites.

  8. Neil 7

    @"to merge"

    Qt will be on both platforms. Create very similar APIs for both platforms (as has been suggested) to make development easier and platform neutral. Eventually, you have to ask, why have two platforms?

  9. Jay Jaffa

    the new hierarchy

    Nokia = The new netware

    Apple = Apple

    Android = The new Microsoft

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Years of debugging

    "Everyone bangs on about how reliable, stable and fully debugged Symbian is but one of the Nokia guys I spoke to last night had an N97 (not mini) and an N900. In the two days he had had his N900 the N97 needed to be power cycled 4 times, while the N900 had been solid as a rock. Go figure."

    The N97 software has been a total disaster, but that can't be blamed on the Symbian kernel & middleware. The N97 is running the same version of Symbian on essentially the same hardware as the 5800XM, yet that device is as solid as a rock (purely stability-wise you understand)... which points the finger squarely at the crap on top and the integration.

    Of course the Linux kernel is extremely stable too, but Maemo is a lot more than a kernel. Jury still out on power consumption - I'd like to see the two platforms benchmarked side-by-side on the same hardware.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Total wankers .....

    ... who, if they were a startup would go broke in a minute.

    Nokia has no real strategic sense with regard to development. Truth be told, it never did.

    Symbian, Qt, Maemo fuck knows what else; their "vision" could do with some real focus.

    Don't you get the feeling that it's a company lost in the woods without any idea which direction to go?

    I do.

  12. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Misleading title, but largely accurate

    Mark - "I don't believe Nokia has an inept record in UIs at all - the Series 40 UI was the best in the world for years"

    Navikey(tm) was the best, while S40 was OK, and good enough. But that was ten years ago, and the rest of Nokia's UI/UXP development has been a disaster. I don't doubt Nokia would still be putting Symbian first if S60 wasn't a such a fail.

    Interesting perspective:’s-open-source-challenge/

    The S60 software team and its management have chucked away a lead of years, they may actually have fatally and irreversibly damaged the company's long term prospects.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Years of debugging

    Years of debugging my a*se.

    E71 which runs pretty much a latest Symbian load will not last more than a couple of days if heavily loaded before going into brick mode. OK, that is better than early N95 loads which went into brick mode on using VOIP for 5+ minutes, sending an email above 1MB, having more than 30MB in the outbox or simply using 3G packet data for more than 5MB.

    It is not years of debugging which Nokia should be thinking about. Minutes of proper software testing are probably considerably more important. As well as having an OS where a failure of an app does not brick the phone.

  14. Dazed and Confused

    More on years of debugging

    OK this might not be Kernel functionality but some of the core bits of S60 have always had problems and the new versions are worse.

    The "contacts" system on all my Nokias with S60 (6680, E65, N95 8GB & E71) can't cope with having the same phone number stored in more than one entry. You can't use voice dialing to choose whether to call someone's home or mobile. The backup and transfer features don't do anything with groups.

    With the E71 the voice dialing on my phone just doesn't work. The phone has been back for repair almost all of the time since I got it. The guys in the shop can't get it to work either but the repair agents can't fix it (coz it's not a hardware problem) and don't know how to proceed.

    I hope that when they ditch this OS they fix all these "core" features of a phone.

    Smart? yeah really smart!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    N900 meetup

    I was there too and one of the N900's people had to play with crashed.

    I worked at Symbian, when we became Nokia it soon became clear how good we actually were at developing software. The article is spot-on. It's a fucking disgrace what was allowed to happen to S60.

    It would be interesting to put Symbian (compiled for speed, not size) on the N900 hardware and see how fast it actually goes, and how long the battery lasts.

  16. Mark Wilcox

    Who was doing better before Apple came along?

    Thanks for the response Andrew,

    "Navikey(tm) was the best, while S40 was OK, and good enough."

    Yes, Navikey was the undisputed leader in its day, but what was better than S40 in its time? I worked on it and Ericsson's alternative, even on Panasonic, wouldn't have dirtied myself with the horror of Moto's effort. Some of the Japanese stuff was several years ahead of course, but with the usual uniquely Japanese slant.

    I maintain S60 wasn't badly designed for its time (although I didn't have anything to do with creating that, only some devices based on it a few years later). By the late 2nd Edition devices it was just horribly cluttered. Apple didn't solve the clutter problem with a cunning design, they just removed the clutter (and a lot of features that many operators considered "essential" until someone proved otherwise).

    There's a lot of truth in Roger Nolan's piece, Nokia is engineering led and in some cases the power ends up in the wrong places - the engineering teams creating S60 had almost no accountability to most of their "customers" creating products when it came to the design and UX aspects.

  17. Sean Timarco Baggaley
    Thumb Up


    ... had an awful lot of legacy cruft from the days when it was called EPOC32 and maintained by Psion (who created it). Think "custom memory management", as C++'s default features for that were less than stellar at the time the OS was developed.

    It's basically a repeat of the "Microsoft Foundation Classes" (or "MFC") framework introduced way back before C++ had been stabilised. Similar workarounds and kludges exist in both, and both reached a point when it was clear they could go on no longer. Symbian has taken longer to reach that stage than I expected, but it's clear that an OS originally designed to run on very resource-limited hardware is no longer a great fit for machines with multiple built-in digital cameras, multiple networking antennas and stacks, full web browsers—often with Flash too—and 16-million-colour, 4" OLED displays capable of playing entire movies from their internal RAM.

    It needs a serious rewrite, along with a willingness to kill off a lot of legacy support.

    (All the above should be taken with a pinch of salt; it's been a few years since I've even used Symbian in anger.)

    My current phone is a Series 40-based Nokia 2630. Nokia can still a good, decent, cheap and reliable phone, and that's still a huge market. I don't think Nokia themselves are therefore in any great danger of going under.

    Symbian, on the other hand, is a survivor. It may not have a long future in the mobile telephony world, but then, it began its life as an OS for netbooks and PDAs way back in the 1990s. There's always a market for a small, lean, mean OS which can be squeezed into very, very low-resource hardware.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



    But at least we have some notice, and I probably feel it might last SLIGHTLY longer.

    Not that Symbian is easy to Dev for anyway, and is pretty "ugly" by todays standards.

    Bring on Android.

  19. Steve Evans

    @Coruscating Frenzy

    I'd say there is no feedback loop (or feedback at all) between the first line support we talk to, and anyone else in Nokia with N97 issues!

  20. Shonko Kid

    Maemo still has to prove itself

    As Mark says, there's a long hard road between building a great device, and building a great software platform that can be used to make many great devices. Maemo is a long way from there.

    @Neil 7

    "Eventually, you have to ask, why have two platforms?"

    I doubt Maemo, or another other Open and Linux based OS (yes, I'm looking at you Android) will ever be able to provide a high end experience on low end hardware, like Symbian OS can.

    Nokia will certainly push Maemo in their high end devices, Symbian will still provide the platform for the mid to high end, volume products. Qt just means that they can have a common (bar any niggling platform quirks) development environment.

    @AC - N900 meetup

    You probably won't have to wait long before Nokia use the same HW platform in a Symbian device.

    @AC 15:20 GMT

    "I'd like to see the two platforms benchmarked side-by-side on the same hardware."

    IIRC the N800 and N95 are the same basic Hw platform.

    I know which of the two has better battery life (despite the N800 having a larger battery), and which runs faster, and feels more responsive (despite having to run a 3G baseband aswell)

    Don't get me wrong, there is a hell of a lot of Maemo love going on in Nokia, but at the end of the day, when they want to ship a tried and tested, volume product, with a lot of features and wow factor, on cheap-as-chips hardware, my money's on Symbian.

  21. Bod


    "it bought Trolltech’s QT five years too late"

    Qt isn't a failing here, it's a potential saviour. Maemo and Symbian both get Qt and from a UI perspective (the real problem with S60), the two can be the same.

    Hence how the two can be effectively merged. What works on Symbian works on Maemo.

    Then the two platforms can be used targeted at relevant devices. I guess Maemo for the high end, and Symbian for lower spec smartphones.

    Thing is Symbian still has a great benefit in being a multi-tasking OS that runs on very low powered devices.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    It's the fault of software engineers and managers

    Nokia are fundamentally driven by technology and led by engineers. Apple on the other hand are driven by design and ease of use, and led by designers. In Apple, the user-savvy designers actually call the shots (because a user-savvy design-freak runs the company and wants it that way). Hence, user-friendly products. Duh! :-)

    (As I understand it, Psion had a little UI Design Committee, led by a Designer not a techie, that actually called the shots on the UI of EPOC32 too.)

    It's about who calls the shots - designers, or engineers. A company may say it has enormous focus on UI, but if it turns out that that's merely lots of techies trying to "focus on UI", or if it turns out that there are many UI Designers but they have to *persuade* the techies of the arguments the whole time, to make them change stuff, what do you think happens?

    Nokia happens. (Motorola happens. Sony Ericsson happens. Microsoft happens.)

    I think one major reason it happens is that most engineers simply can't deal with the idea that people who were less bright than them at school might be better at designing things that work for normal people, and thus should be in charge. ("Some of them are retrained nurses! What could they possibly know that I don't?!" Well, they probably understand what normal non-techie people want and understand waaaay better than techies do.)

    You wouldn't create a new building the way tech firms build technology. You wouldn't have a load of structural engineers and bricklayers knocking up some half-thought-out semi-structures ("No detailed design thinking! We value working bricks over documentation!") and then asking people for feedback. You'd employ some architects to design the damn thing - specialists who think about how people will interact with and use the building. And they would tell the structural engineers and the bricklayers what to do.

    Like in Apple, where the Designers tell the Engineers what to do. It's dead simple really.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I knew it

    A couple of years ago someone got one of those new N series slidey phones, and let us all play with it

    What a crock of shit!

    Which hypersensitive button do I brush against now and what are the odds the browser can render the next web site?

    Worse than any LG! Now thats saying something 'cus LG just supersucky

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