Symbian OS: the smartphone platform that ruled the world

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.

Nokia N95 Symbian OS

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.

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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.

Mister Mobility

I started blogging about mobile in 2004 as a fun way to share my passion for gadgets and mobile services. My other interests include digital media, speaking and teaching, photography, travelling, and dancing.

One thought on “Symbian OS: the smartphone platform that ruled the world

  • Apr 28, 2014 at 11:12 pm
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    Symbian really did an excellent job when mobile computing was in stone age. It’s unfortunate that it couldn’t evolve enough to compete with the modern smartphones of the present generation. Symbian reigned when hardware was still the major defining factor for smartphones but the emergence of iOS and subsequently Android exposed Nokia’s weakness when software is the question.

    But for pride, Nokia will still be around today but that’s one of those things. When I pick a Symbian device in this day, I just marvel at its power and capabilities but the crooked approach to doing the most common simple tasks makes it obvious why Nokia and Symbian have to go. The history of Nokia and Symbian makes for a nostalgic moment but in truth, I just wonder why things have to be made so difficult, though they still worked. I’m certainly better served right now and beyond their superb camera and the bricky nature of their devices, I really don’t wish Nokia still keep hanging around. They’ve not done much else beside their camera and Samsung are already taking the fight to them in the camera department.

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