Why Android, Web OS and OSX are Not going to overtake Symbian anytime soon

You live in Nigeria, one of the world’s fastest growing mobile markets. Or any of the other numerous African and Asian countries that make the top of the list in terms of mobile growth for that matter.

symbianheartYou can duck into almost any mobile retailer’s store and walk out with a Symbian device in less than twenty minutes. And it takes that long only because you are spoilt for choice. There are so many such smartphones on display (and from different manufacturers) that you had to think through which one you would walk out with.

So, you have heard about all those spanking new mobile operating systems and how they are revolutionalizing people’s lives. Unfortunately, you hunt through store after store in search of an Android smartphone, and come up with nothing.

You ask a particular store attendant for the Palm Pre. “Pre-what“, he asks? Never heard of it. Don’t even waste your energy mentioning that it runs Web OS. Probably never heard of that either.

However, while its hard to find an iPhone, you do run into a handful of stores with a couple of units for sale.

Luckilly, hunting for a Windowsphone is not as tedious as hunting for an iPhone. Oh, it is not a walk in the park, but at least one or two major retailers list a handful of Windows Phones, especially from HTC.

Or perhaps you do not even care about mobile OSes and have no idea what differences exist under the hood of different phones. So you walk into a store and see this shiny phone that gets you drooling. “What can that phone do?”, you ask the attendant.

She responds, “It has a camera, surfs the web, you can check email, has bluetooth and you can connect it to your computer“. “Cool“, you say and pick a unit. You have just purchased a Symbian-powered smartphone. Yes; you don’t know and you couldn’t really care. But Symbian has made a sale just because its devices were available.

This is the situation on ground in many of the world’s fast growing mobile markets. Nokia and other Symbian licencees have a firm hold of those markets. They have a distribution network on ground. This factor alone means that for quite a while, Symbian will outsell other mobile OSes.

It does not matter how much of a rave OSX, Android and Web OS are in North America and Europe. If they are not widely available on the shelves in countries where mobiles are selling like hot cakes, the growth of those OSes will remain limited. This is one of the flaws of Palm’s strategy with the Pre. They ignored where the action is.

Of course, Android looks like it has the greatest potential to play catch-up. It is licensed by an ever-growing number of manufacturers who already have their feet planted in these fast-growing markets. Hopefully, we will begin to see Android devices by Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson in mobile retail stores here in Nigeria.

For now, the few Android-powered devices and iPhones in the market came in mostly via unofficial channels.

When other smartphone platforms invade stores in the hottest mobile markets, then, and only then will the mobile OS race be truly on. For now, the hold of Symbian is yet to be really challenged where it matters.

PS: By the way, anyone knows of any mobile store in Nigeria that currently stocks Android devices?

29 comments

  1. Nice write up I am actually working on setting up a pda/smart phone only store in lagos which will stock all the different platform, we should lunch by late march. Nice site

  2. Your points are valid and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Irregardless of the phone o/s eventually mobile apps will be the preferred way of accessing the internet and online services especially with the power situation ..

    mobile phone is always connected to the network and battery lasts all day meanwhile you get 2 hours out of a laptop. Are the Nigerian carriers really going to stand by and ignore the huge revenues that others are raking in from sales of mobile apps?

  3. Am talking about d real thing. If it isnt listed on their site, it could be that they dont give a damn about the OS’s on mobile phones & they are only interested in selling them to customers or may be they dont even know what an operating system is.

    I ve seen the G1 and many of the other models on display there

  4. I will pick up the challenge in regards to the availabilty of phones so that you can review them. I am in the states but we might be able to work something out, send me an email and we can work out the details as well. Take care and have a great day.

    1. quam,

      Thanks for stepping up to the plate. Please expect our email. We are looking forward to this being a mutually beneficial relationship. Cheers.

  5. Ok.txn 4 d info. I actually saw one online today. Is called motorola Flipback. It has a lot of features anyway. Thanks once again

  6. Mahogany, so it would seem, except that Symbian smartphones are still the world’s best cameraphones and musicphones. How can anyone claim that a platform that is still king of media globally is old news? People who talk like this pre-suppose that a touchscreen is all there is to modern phones.

    Those who know swear that Symbian worldwide market share will continue to fall, but will still lead all other mobile platforms by a huge margin.

    For example, I read Yomi’s experience with the G1, how he fell in love with it, but had to drop it again because it lacked certain functionalities. For all his android love, he admits that the Nokia E90 (powered by Symbian, Gasp!) is still the most capable smartphone he has used till date. If I remember well,he mentioned the E90’s camera as exceptional too. The E90 was released in February 2007. That’s a 2-year old Symbian still trouncing several of last year;s phones in functionality and performance.

    Yet, some of the new Symbian releases trounce the E90 in some of the departments it excels.

    Symbian may be old and in need of some polishing here and there, but it still is smoking hot. Its not about to go extict anytime soon. I doubt that even Yomi will go as far as saying that Symbian is yesterday’s news.

    PS: And speaking of Yomi, where has he been?

  7. Dayann,

    Actually, the E90 will be 3 years old this June. 2007 to 2010 is 3 years; not 2 as you stated in your comment.

    Yes;you are correct: we are agreed here at MobilityNigeria that while Symbian has some work to do (and they seem to be waking up), the platform is far from being yesterday’s news. This position is shared by even Yomi who really would love to stay away from Symbian till they fix some things that currently annoy him.

  8. Thanks. I signed up for their development program and will get around to testing some sample code. At first glance Symbian has a lot of work ahead before their app environment will be as attractive as some of the newer platforms. Maybe they’ll just fast forward, buy Adobe, and upgrade their mobile platform capability with Flex/Flash.

  9. with the kind of capabilities that can be accomplished in today’s mobile devices powered by webOS, Android, macOS and even maemo, symbian stand no chance of competing. symbian is simply dated.

    fine a huge number of symbian phones has been sold by nokia, it does not mean the os is better in anyway. i think nokia should stick to maemo in its future smartphones and ofcourse give us sleek designs not the chunky N900!

  10. Mahogany,

    Please list five (5) capabilities that can be accomplished in Web OS, Android and OSX that cannot be accomplished on Symbian.

    And while we are at it,can you also list 5 capabilities that are currently available on phones powered by those new OSes that are not available on Symbian devices.

    This is going to be fun!

  11. Its not that they CANNOT be accomplished in Symbian but moreso that complex functionality can easily be reproduced on iPhone and Android (not blackberry) since those o/s were built to run 3rd party apps from the gate.

    Haven’t played with Maemo but on Nokia you have a choice of web widgets, flash lite, or C++ dev environment (say whaaaat????).

    iPhone gives you XCode (beautiful dev environment though objective-c has a bit of a learning curve) and there are millions of Java programmers out there that can come up to speed rapidly with their existing Java background.

    WebOS on Palm was very well thought out, runs apps in the background and all of that … but due to small market share developers are not going to rush out and build Palm apps either.

    It also comes down to if you want a phone (Nokia) or something with solid app support (iPhone, Android).

  12. Nigeria Music,

    Its not that they CANNOT be accomplished in Symbian but moreso that complex functionality can easily be reproduced on iPhone and Android (not blackberry) since those o/s were built to run 3rd party apps from the gate.

    Sorry, but Symbian was built to run 3rd party apps from the gate as well, and runs far more complex functionalities than has been seen on any of the newer OSes.

    PS: Complex functionality on the iPhone? A phone that does not allow you to run two applications at the same time – like surf the web and listen to a podcast, check your calendar and return to browsing without closing and re-opening apps? What complex functionality?

    Haven’t played with Maemo but on Nokia you have a choice of web widgets, flash lite, or C++ dev environment (say whaaaat????).

    Since when did the liberty to code with different platforms amount to a negative? Since when did more choices become a bad thing? That is a plus; not a negative. That’s flexibility, the kind you will not find on any of the newer OSes.

    You left out Python, Qt, and java from that list. You left out java when listing for Symbian yet mentioned it when pulling for the iPhone. Odd, because Symbian phones have been running java since I was a kid.

    WebOS on Palm was very well thought out, runs apps in the background and all of that …

    Apps have been running in the background on Symbian since forever. The Symbian powered Nokia 6600 (from way back in 2003) and the ancient communicators 9210/9210i (from 2000AD) – heck, every single Symbian device, Sendo X, Siemens SX1, et al, all ran apps in the background.

    It also comes down to if you want a phone (Nokia) or something with solid app support (iPhone, Android).

    Hello! There are tens of thousands of Symbian apps out there from an active developer community. With the libertty to code in a variety of platforms that you attempted to paint bad above, there is a Symbian app for almost every functionality that you want to add to your phone.

    In contrast, until recently, one couldn’t find well-built apps for document editing on the Android platform. I honestly don’t know what you are talking about here.

    PS: By the way, you keep refering to Nokia, but this discussion is about Symbian, not Nokia. They are two different entities. Motorola, Sony Ericsson, LG, Samsung and others all produce phones on the Symbian OS. Mixing things up?

  13. Haven’t played with Maemo but on Nokia you have a choice of web widgets, flash lite, or C++ dev environment (say whaaaat????).

    Breaking news: At the ongoing CES 2010, Palm has just announced a new development tool called PDK Plugin which allows developers to develop and install C/C++ plugins to their WebOS applications. This allows for graphic intensive content and other rich features that we haven’t see before with WebOS to be implimented in existing and future apps (Palm shocks everyone at CES once again!)

    Looks like Palm/WebOS is copying one particular more matured, more advanced OS that we know by integrating greater flexibility and functionality via multiple programming platforms.

  14. All your points about Symbian are quite informative … which bears the question that okay so why did someone else hit a home run with apps? I guess it just took Apple to make apps shine

    … but then again that’s what Apple does.

    🙂

  15. Nigeria Music,

    … which bears the question that okay so why did someone else hit a home run with apps? I guess it just took Apple to make apps shine

    … but then again that’s what Apple does.

    Very true! Apple has a way of taking what already exists, polishing it, and making it look like no-one has ever done that thing before.

    Apple did the mobile industry a favour when they stepped in with the iPhone. They made the public more away of mobile technology, mobile web, and mobile applications.

    Now, everyone is trying to catchup with Apple’s polishing. In the end, its good for us all.

  16. Hmmm… very interesting topic and really impressive discussion.
    All said, symbian os will still remain very relevant and with us for as long as we live cos you just can’t lay your hands on a good featured winmo, palm, blackberry, mac OS, or android with reasonable price. I just can’t see why i should spend so much buying any of these new OS when i can get a good symbian with same or more features for a fraction of the cost. I am talking about functionallity here not eye candy. I enjoy functionality in a phone not showmanship and definitely not showing that i have means to obtain the latest expensive toy in town.

  17. Deoladoctor,

    You are on point. How did we forget the cost factor? At the moment, Symbian rules the low-cost smartphone space, though of recent Samsung has introduced some powerful low-cost Windows Mobile smartphones in recent times.

    Cheers.

  18. There are soooooo many apps in the app store for iPhone and that’s what I like best about the iPhone. As much as price/feature set is important all I really care about are the apps and there are soooooooooooo many in the Apple App Store. More and more are becoming available on Android so this should be a good year for them too.

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