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Symbian OS: the smartphone platform that ruled the world for over 10 years

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.

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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 the operating system, 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 the OS which they continued with, Japan having always been a different kettle of fish from the rest of the world in mobile matters.

The different platforms, or user interfaces, of Symbian OS

  • S60 (formerly Series 60): S60 was developed by Nokia for phones with alphanumeric key pads and QWERTY keyboards. As such, it became the most popular platform of the operating system, as many other brands also embraced it and used it in their phones.
  • S80: This was a more advanced user interface, also developed by Nokia, for use in devices with the Communicator form factor. It was eventually shut down by Nokia, and the last set of communicators used S60.
  • UIQ: UIQ was a user interface developed for stylus-based touchscreen devices. It was mostly used by Sony Ericsson Motorola.
  • MOAP(S): This platform was used in Japan, primarily by NTT DoCoMo in its smartphones.
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Nokia’s 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.

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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.

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Nokia N95 was the most iconic Symbian smartphone
Nokia N95

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. It 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 the operating system. 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 devices with the OS months earlier.

Symbian OS smartphones

List of Symbian smartphone manufacturers

Below is the list of mobile phone brands that made phones that were powered by this legendary mobile operating system:

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  1. Nokia
  2. Samsung
  3. Sony Ericsson
  4. Motorola
  5. Siemens
  6. Sharp
  7. Fujitsu
  8. Mitsubishi
  9. Arima
  10. BenQ
  11. DoCoMo
  12. Lenovo
  13. LG
  14. Sendo
  15. Panasonic
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Symbian was a great smartphone OS in its time, and I have nothing but praise for it. It powered a wide range of smartphones in different shapes, form factors, and flavours. Every smartphone brand worth its salt made phones running this OS. But nothing created lives forever. It has since been pronounced dead and buried, but it will always be remembered in the annals of smartphone history.

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