Symbian – Needs to Revolutionize Or Revitalize to Survive in the Smartphone Market

In a recent survey conducted by Gartner, the Symbian platform showed that it was still the undisputed champion of smartphone OSs. However, with the recent explosive growth of the iPhone along with the buildup of Android, webOS, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile, this may become a thing of the past.

Symbian has traditionally had the largest marketshare due to the long-term strategic planning of the platform. What are now considered standard features for smartphone OSs’ such as app stores, firmware updates, developer SDKs, etc were all pioneered by Symbian. Unfortunately, it seems as if the technology was well ahead of its time in comparison to what is considered “revolutionary” or “cutting-edge” at this time. Symbian should look to recapitalize on this edge by leveraging the platform aggressively to consumers again.

Below are a few steps that Symbian should seriously look into to re-launch the platform into consumer minds again:

1. New revolutionary phones with striking designs
a. Re-forge a technology partnership with Nokia
b. Focus on American markets
c. Compete on price points with subsidized phones

2. Open-source the base code for Symbian
a. Allow cross-platform publishing: Qt
b. Build stronger relationships with developers
3. Market Symbian Horizon


There are more actions but these are the pertinent issues that Symbian should look to address.

1. New revolutionary phones with striking designs

Traditionally Symbian phones have not necessarily been the most sexy or desirable phones. They were utility driven practical devices where looks were not excessively important. However, consumer tastes have drastically changed. Primarily, Apple’s insistent focus on style has driven the thoughts of customers to higher demanding expectations from their smartphones. They currently hold the status of a fashion accessory as well, clearly utility and productivity doesn’t cut it for today’s consumer.

Nokia is Symbian’s biggest asset here, with a slew of phones including the N-97 and various N-series phones doing phenomenally well all over the world. Symbian needs to team up with some serious designers and build phones that will drive mad if they don’t have them. With a number of people now beginning to match phones as fashion accessories, it’s time for a change. Bring in the sleek, neat, glossy piano black plastic and brushed steel, and out with the grey scratchproof plastics.

The Symbian-Nokia partnership also has an added advantage, primarily the technology amount Nokia has invested in the touchscreen. The multi-touch support in Nokia screens is revolutionary in many ways. Currently, Nokia and Apple are going head to head for technology patents, but Symbian must capture this feature’s functionality to ensure that customers come back to the platform. The iPhone, HTC HD2, Motorola’s Droid, Samsung Omnia, etc all have set high-standards, however, Symbian’s experience should prove valuable to placing a new twist on the feature. Improved typing support alone could win potentially millions of customers who are text fanatics but not necessarily fans of the attempts of touchscreen methods currently available.

Another factor that Symbian should emphasize is the lack of penetration of Symbian within the United States. Considering that the majority of the developer capital is located in Silicon Valley and other technology hubs, the US is an important market for smartphones. With acceptance within that specific market, Symbian could easily overtake all its other competitors as the leading smartphone OS.

2. Open-source the base code for Symbian

Qt is a type of technology that allows users to develop applications that can easily be ported to other platforms without having to rewrite the code multiple times. Currently there are few applications that actively allow for easy porting to other platforms. Although techniques exist for porting apps across from iPhone to other platforms, it’s never really as easy as it seems. This issue needs to be clearly addressed to ensure that the platform becomes viable for developers.

A hidden asset that sometimes technology companies forget is the developers themselves. Although much support is dedicated to them, they are significant stakeholders in the technology that is being developed. They are customers as well as the end-user for apps and handsets. Without their support and effort, the technology would just sit as a dead platform. Symbian needs to actively look for technology evangelists within their platform and bring them on board as active partners in the technology that is being developed. With their contributions and insights, it will bring around a new revival in the platform which may help it retain its marketshare amongst smartphone operating systems.

3. Market Symbian Horizon

Horizon is a wonderful free community that Symbian has created for app developers to publish their apps free of cost to build a developer base. The design and interface is beautiful emphasizing the fun side of Symbian and the access that developers have to the community and Symbian for development purposes. I learnt of Symbian through a comment of a Symbian Horizon employee on LinkedIn. Prior to the comment, I’d never heard of it. Clearly, Symbian really needs to push Horizon into the minds of developers. The ability to publish apps for free and access the required target markets is of great benefit for app developers who need to build a name and reputation while they develop apps.

An added benefit of Horizon is that it allows users to interact with Symbian employees and other developers so that they can make an impact in the smartphone OS.

It seems as if Symbian does have a significant amount of work to do to maintain it’s marketshare. However, a coordinated effort could easily bring it back to the forefront of smartphone operating systems. Hopefully, a re-entrenchment strategy will help Symbian focus its efforts to combat the upcoming competition through Android, iPhone, webOS, and BlackBerry’s offerings.

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