There aren’t many people over 25 to have never used a Symbian device. The platform was responsible for the invention of the smartphone as we know it: a connected device with multitasking capacities, offering more and more of the things we could only do on a desktop computer before.
The once huge and mighty Symbian consortium desintegrated a few years ago, leaving Nokia as the only owner still believing and investing in it – up until today, now that Nokia has announced it will not produce anymore Symbian devices after the Nokia 808 PureView.
It’s a moment in time. It’s over and done with. It’s a wrap. And it’s a shame, and shows not only living creatures actually die in the end. Many people are getting pretty sentimental over this – and I’m not thrilled about the idea either.
But I’ll use it as a starting point for this very long post instead, in which I’ll take you on a trip down memory lane, back to the origins of Symbian, up to where we are now and where that leaves us – and Nokia.
The story starts in 1984 (!), with a British device called the Psion Organiser…
It might interest you to know it had 6K internal memory, with some applications are on 8K memorycards. This now almost 30 year old Psion organiser marks the very start of the mobile computing.
It’s an extremely modest Big Bang of an industry that has grown into an ever expanding technological universe.
The next one, the Psion Organiser II from 1986, is considered to be the first PDA (personal digital assistent), although no-one has invented that term yet. It’s the year when many decide to say goodbye to the old filofax and pocket calculator.
It’s not just Psion starting this new industry. Three years later the Atari Portfolio makes a big impression on people. I had one back then (still have it), and it was very high-end equipment! It boasted a 128K memory (expandable with incredibly expensive memorycards).
The Atari Portfolio had a 4,9MHz processor that would keep the device running on three AA batteries for weeks.
It’s also in 1989 that Psion launches its next device, the MC-series, the first laptop, based on its own EPOC platform. It’s not a PDA and it’s not a success either, because it’s way too expensive.
Two years later however, Psion has a smash hit for those days, with Psion Series 3. It has a QWERTY keyboard built-in, and from 1991 the company sell more than a 1.5 million devices – that would be a failure now, but was a major success in those days.
Much later, in 1999, the next series were announced by Psion: the Series 5, offering the possibility to connect it to your cell phone using… infrared! It sounds incredibly ancient by now, but back then, it was state of the art.
In 1998, Psion split its business into three parts: Computers, Enterprise and Software. The latter is a partnership with Nokia and Ericsson, to create a special cell phone operating system.
Seen in this way, we can now conclude that Symbian has been developped for 15 years. The first real Symbian PDA (with QWERTY keyboard) is the Nokia 9210 (2000), a brilliant combination of a mobile phone and PDA: a smartphone.
But it’s not just Psion – or Nokia – that gets the credits for the development of the mobile revolution. Apple has the Newton MessagePad in 1993 (no, Apple was not the first), Jeff Hawkins had the GridPad the same year.
Hawkins would be immensly succesfull with Palm, starting with the Palm Pilot, “product of the year” in 1999 according to Business Week, and no doubt a big inspiration for Steve Jobs.
But that wasn’t the first by far. The very first smartphone – combining GSM and PDA – was the Nokia 9000 Communicator from 1997 (!!)
It’s absolutely impossible to overestimate the innovative power of Nokia. But working together on Symbian with Ericsson, the Swedes had a great Symbian premiere with the Ericsson R380 - the first in fact to be marketed as a “smartphone”, and the very first touchscreen smartphone as well.
But also, Sony Ericsson left the Symbian building, like so many other companies (Samsung, Motorola, etc), leaving Nokia behind as the only company still refusing to embrace Android. To no avail, in the end, that is: it didn’t save Symbian from dying.
Symbian is not dead yet though! The Nokia 808 PureView is its testament and everybody agrees it’s a landmark in technological innovation. It’s still there, you can buy one! It’s probably one of the most converged devices on the market and without any doubt it has the best smartphone camera ever and probably for years to come – and I’m serious about that.
I’ve often written it never ceases to amaze me and it still doesn’t in fact. The Nokia 808 PureView is an incredible joy to hold and use, and moreover, it’s standy time will put many other high-end smartphones to shame. I could go on for hours, but I won’t. Let just say it’s King of Camphones, that covers it.
But there’s more
I’m no financial analyst (far from, even), but this is something that’s worrying me a bit. From this year, Nokia will have to pay royalties to Microsoft, as you can read here. Nokia got a staggering $250.000.000 from Microsoft for every quarter using Windows Phone.
As far as I understand, starting this year Nokia will pay more for royalties than it receives from Microsoft. How much more is unknown to the public. I have no idea what the implications are.
But it sometimes makes me wonder if leaving Symbian – a rich and versatile platform Nokia owned for 100% – was the absolutely inevitable move Nokia simply had to make to survive. Looking at the newest versions of Nokia Belle on the 808 PureView (or the N8 or E7), I’m extremely impressed of what it’s capable of – and I know I’m not alone.
To conclude: I always thought partnering with Microsoft was a creative move, combining the best of both worlds in software and hardware, creating an ecosystem with a global reach. But I never understood Nokia’s move to completely throw away everything it invested in Symbian. And to tell you the truth: I still don’t.
So this is my reaction on today’s announcement by Nokia. An epitaph for Symbian. The Nokia 808 PureView will be the very last Symbian device. End of an era. But as long as Nokia will produce it for the next say 5 years, I think we can get used to the idea – reluctantly.