Nokia has taken its final step off the burning platform and announced that it will end shipment of Symbian devices this summer. A Dialaphone poll has found that few people will miss the once popular OS, signalling an end to a software suite which Stephen Elop famously referred to in his 2011 memo about the company’s future prospects.
We very much doubt this lack of concern about Symbian’s plight is anything to do with a general animosity towards it, with our readers far more likely to think that the time has come to shut the doors on a once great but now redundant platform. After all, Symbian was the OS that ran on handsets such as Nokia’s N70 and N95, which did much to lay the groundwork and open up the public’s imagination to traits which have since become the norm for mobile devices.
So where did it all begin for Symbian and what did it do to kick off the modern smartphone age? With a heritage that can be traced back to the Psion palmtop software of the nineties, it is one of the older statesmen of the mobile world, having been around in some form for a very long time.
Throughout much of this history Symbian has been a vehicle for innovation and was one of the first platforms to make use of third party software, something without which the like of iOS and Android would be lost.
Arguably the first true smartphone platform (although BlackBerry lovers would debate this) Symbian once led the market. In mid-2007 the platform recorded 65% of smartphone sales worldwide, a figure that has only been bettered by Android since. However, Symbian has seen a gradual decline in this dominance and now only accounts for 1.6% of global shipments.
Why did this decline come about? Symbian failed in what have become some key areas for other smartphone platforms. For instance, while the Symbian name was certainly present in the minds of people buying a phone several years ago, the OS never formed a cohesive ecosystem in the way that later platforms have done. Symbian had no unified app store from which apps could be purchased for any device running the software, something which is almost unthinkable in the days of Google Play.
Instead each app developer would have to create its own app store to sell its apps, a costly requirement that many start-ups could never have afforded. This also would have made it harder for smaller companies to get recognition for their software, something which can be much easier within Apple and Google’s ecosystems.
Nokia launched the Ovi store in 2009 to sell apps along with ringtones and videos but this was something that had already been done by Apple, Google and BlackBerry. While a cohesive app store from Symbian’s biggest partner looked like a positive move it was more a case of too little, too late.
Nokia announced in January that 2012’s 808 PureView would be its last Symbian-powered handset, with the Finnish firm making the shift over to Windows Phone wholesale. This sounded the death knell for Symbian, and the recent announcement that Nokia would soon end shipments of all handsets running the platform comes as little surprise.
Symbian certainly had millions of fans and even recently saw support from major developers when the WhatsApp free messaging service came to the platform, but it didn’t manage to keep up with its competition. Users have long since migrated to iOS and Android, or have maybe stuck with Nokia after switching to one of the firm’s excellent Windows Phone handsets.
As our poll results suggest few will miss Symbian but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t loved in its time, and will be fondly remembered for laying much of the groundwork for what we know as smartphones today.