Nokia still flogging the Symbian horse in the US
As shares leap on continuing commitment to its old OS, it promises new devices at CTIA
Published: 17 March, 2011
Nokia's shares rose last week when the firm reiterated its commitment to keep Symbian alive for at least several years. Some believe that will be stretched to a longer period because of the platform's huge installed base, especially in emerging markets, and there are signs that some large carriers may put their weight behind preserving a mass market OS which they can tailor to their needs. Nokia is not just making positive statements about Symbian's "long tail", but even hinting at some actual product releases in, of all places, the platform's least successful market, the US.
Nokia has invited journalists to an event at next week's CTIA Wireless show in Florida, hinting at new Symbian devices and a continuing effort to make some headway in north America, even before the firm's WP7 products appear around year end. Some might call this the triumph of hope over experience, but Nokia's invitation reads: "We promised to sell millions more Symbian devices. Join us as we spotlight our latest solutions for US customers."
The launch may well be the C7, which has appeared in FCC documents as a future device for T-Mobile. The phone appeared in international markets in October and runs Symbian^3 plus a 3.5-inch AMOLED display and 8-megapixel camera.
Last week, in a broad SEC filing detailing the plans and risks for the WP7 alliance, Nokia said it aimed to expand the Microsoft OS into mass markets, and wrote: "This strategy recognises the opportunity to retain and transition the installed base of approximately 200m Symbian owners to Nokia Windows Phone smartphones over time. We expect to sell approximately 150m more Symbian devices in the years to come, supported by our plan to deliver additional user interface and hardware enhancements."
Nokia shares leapt when CFO Timo Ihamuotila echoed the Symbian plans at a conference, promising to "milk" the OS for as long as it was profitable to do so. "We will, of course, utilize the long tail of Symbian as long as it gives us a profitable margin. We don't know how long a time that would be, but we will definitively milk it to the best of our ability," he said, reassuring investors who had been concerned that the huge investment in open sourcing and upgrading Symbian over the past few years would be thrown away too quickly.
The preservation of older platforms, especially for lower end devices, is not confined to Symbian. While Silverlight and then HTML5 are the main developer systems for WP7, Java is not going away either. "We will continue to promote Qt as the sole application development framework for our Symbian smartphone platform … For our Series 40-based featurephones, we will continue to support a Java-¬based development environment," writes Nokia in its filing.
Also examining the opportunity to exploit the relatively untapped crossover point between featurephones and smartphones is the operator driven Wholesale Applications Community (WAC). Its CEO Peter Suh told Mobile World: "WAC offers a solution to both markets… You have our web application solution which is cross-OS, cross-device, and that's well suited for the featurephone as well as some smartphone solutions." This creates a broader developer base and plays to the cellcos' own-brand strengths in lower end markets, though WAC may need to find ways to accommodate the dominant technologies in the midmarket, Java and Brew.