Nokia + Microsoft: What does this mean for Symbian and MeeGo?

Jonathan Morris
February 11, 2011

Nokia might like to have us believe there’s still a future for Symbian and MeeGo, but this is probably little more than a move to reassure existing customers that they should still buy an C7, N8 or E7.

Given Nokia might also be about to announce more Symbian devices at Mobile Word Congress on Sunday, it would also be rather suicidal to announce its demise before showing off a new collection of obsolete devices.

The simple fact is that Symbian has been failing for years, and now that everyone is seeing Nokia getting into bed with Microsoft, who is seriously going to believe that Symbian can survive in any shape or form?

Customers can be persuaded to buy if there are sufficiently good retail deals, and the N8 and E7 each have features that do let users accept the compromises on the UI and its underlying operating system.

But what about developers? Developers want to make money, so if you’ve got to manage your business effectively then you have to narrow down your chosen platforms early on.

Clearly the money is on iOS and Android, followed possibly by RIM, a company that has found a new success in the youth market thanks to the phenomenal success of BlackBerry Messaging. Samsung’s bada OS and HP’s webOS are in similarly precarious positions too.

Unless you’ve got the money and resources to cover every base, like a company such as Rovio (of Angry Birds fame), Symbian is just too big a risk now – and completely untenable in the future.

How many Symbian users will continue to show loyalty to Nokia, or buy apps, when they haven’t been doing that even when Nokia was promising big things for Symbian?

MeeGo hasn’t even got a device on the market yet, so if only one single device appears in 2011 from Nokia it is almost certainly doomed. Nokia could use this platform to develop new concepts, but presumably only to then allow Microsoft to cherry pick the best features for its OS.

Nokia, to its credit, did think ahead and develop the Qt platform to allow developers to write apps that could be scalable over multiple platforms, but is there any point in taking advantage if Nokia’s two current platforms have such a shaky future?

More recently, Myriad Group announced ‘Alien Dalvik’ to allow the easy porting of Android apps to platforms not running Android. That would be great, except non-Android phones won’t have access to Android Market.

I can’t fault the concept, or its implementation, but it will only really be of interest to a hardcore set of users who love to hack and customise their devices, way beyond the average consumer. Most of these people have probably since moved on to building custom ROMs on their Android phones, or have simply grown up and decided they can live with the safe, controlled, environment offered by Apple.

Finally, what of Windows Phone 7? After giving the OS the Editor’s Choice Award last October, I have to say I was impressed with the platform and its potential. I was even surprised at how quickly developers seemed to be jumping onboard. With Nokia building hardware for the platform, it is definitely going to give the platform a boost as a whole, and it could be enough to get more developers to sign up as a result. A definite win for Microsoft.

But, hasn’t Nokia given too much to Microsoft for very little in return? Nokia could have produced a Windows Phone device without any partnership, just like Dell, HTC, LG and Samsung has.

I’ve been with Nokia through thick and thin since the late 1980s, and I cannot tell if this is a good move or not for the future of Nokia. As someone who looked at the N8 and thought how great it would be with Android on it, I can see that Windows Phone on an N8 could be great too.

Nobody can be sure what will happen in the coming transitional period (assuming all of this actually goes ahead as planned), but I can definitely say that I think we can finally say goodbye to Symbian. But, it has had a good run, from its early days at Psion under the name of EPOC. Let’s try not to be too sad.

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