Symbian, Now With Additional DOA-ness For Developers?

Ben Smith over at The Really Mobile Project reports that he was told by some Nokia marketing folks from the Maemo team that Nokia will drop the Symbian OS from its N-Series devices by 2012. Apparently all N-Series devices from that point will use the Maemo Linux OS (like the new N900 does), with Symbian relegated to the X-series (video-focused devices) and the E-series (enterprise handsets).

It seems likely that Symbian will live on in Nokia’s mid-range devices where its strengths as an OS running under constrained resources will be useful — and this is where the standard Nokia scale line gets trotted out: “Well, Nokia has 40% market share, and that sort of scale makes it really attractive to developers just on sheer size, etc etc etc. They’ll flock to it”.

Only that hasn’t exactly worked out, has it? Refer to Mike Rowehl’s excellent rant on the subject:

There’s an interesting discussion floating around that a fanatical devotion to iPhone is blinding mobile developers to larger potential markets. And I’m amazed. Really, just freaking flabbergasted, that the conversation could even be taking place. How can anyone seriously say “well, you’re ignoring all those potential millions of handsets out there running Symbian” and keep a straight face? … Stop lying to yourselves, and definitely stop lying to us. Is the Nokia store supposed to challenge Apple? Or Microsoft supposed to? Or RIM? You know what folks, you had your chances. If you want to impress me, if you want me to start developing for your platforms again, get your houses in order. Once things change, once you get your stores developed, released, and proven as a good commercial channels to end users – then we can talk again. Until then we’re all just going to keep laughing at you and developing for iPhone.

Sure, there’s a big potential market there, but the means by which developers are supposed to access it have been a mess, for any number of reasons, such as a poor development environment and poor sales and distribution channels (which is probably being generous to the Ovi store). And that doesn’t even get to the relatively horrific download and install experience Symbian offers compared to other platforms.

So I’m left wondering why any developers who aren’t already working on Symbian products would bother now. In two years, the OS won’t appear on Nokia’s “high-end” devices — ie its most expensive and fully featured devices, which you’d imagine would attract the sort of users who, you know, would be most into buying apps — which doesn’t seem like much of a vote of confidence in the platform. The scale argument has been proven untrue when the path to market and development environment remains so unattractive; it’s also undermined when Nokia itself fragments its devices among multiple platforms. And, in any case, it’s not clear exactly what market Symbian will have in a couple of years’ time, because of Nokia’s choices, but also because of Symbian’s declining market share in the face of increased competition.

A couple of things (at a minimum) need to happen for Nokia to sort this out:
- It needs to elucidate a clear platform strategy so developers (and the rest of the market) aren’t taking cues from comments by marketing staff at user meetups or leaks written up in FT Deutschland.
- Fix the Ovi Store.

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