As part of my tribute to Nokia’s devices and services division that is now a part and parcel of Microsoft, I thought I would do a brief feature on the legendary Symbian OS. If you grew up in the age of Android OS and iOS, you should read this.
Symbian had its roots in EPOC, which later became Symbian Ltd. Different software platforms were created from Symbian. One of them was Series 60 or S60, created by Nokia in 2001. Years later, the other mainstream versions of Symbian, S80 (used in the Nokia Communicators) and UIQ (used by Sony Ericsson and Motorola) were shut down and S60 became the defacto Symbian version. The Japanese had their own version of Symbian which they continued with, Japan having always been a different kettle of fish from the rest of the world in mobile matters.
Nokia’s Symbian S60 was so good in its day that it was used by not only Nokia, but also Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Siemens, Sendo, LG, Lenovo, and Panasonic. Many of these brands’ best smartphones back then ran Symbian OS. Samsung’s Omnia HD i8910, Sony Ericsson’s Satio and Sendo’s X are examples.
Perhaps the most iconic S60 smartphone is the Nokia N95, pictured below. It was widely acclaimed as the best smartphone ever on any platform in its day. It sold like hot cake in a children’s playground, even outselling the original iPhone.
By 2006, Symbian had 73% of the smartphone market. Competing smartphone platforms back then included Windows Mobile, Palm and BlackBerry. Windows Mobile was projected by some analysts to overtake Symbian to become the leading smartphone OS by 2010. It never came close to doing so. Rather, it continuously declined, dipping to as low as 4-5% global share, while Symbian continued to dominate, though eventually losing share too.
In 2008, Nokia purchased Symbian and made it open source. Symbian was the world’s most popular smartphone OS till 2010, when it was overtaken by Android. Symbian had evolved from the beginning and reigned for about 10 years, but was now in an age where it couldn’t keep up. In 2011, Nokia stopped work on Symbian OS. In January 2014, Nokia shut down its lifeline by barring new app contributions to the Nokia Store, effectively ending its extended life, though they had already stopped shipping Symbian devices months earlier.
Symbian was a great smartphone OS in its time, and I have nothing but praise for it. Nothing created lives forever. Symbian has since been pronounced dead and buried, but it will always be remembered in the annals of smartphone history.