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Gartner's Nick Jones on Symbian: Abandon ship

Market share is an existential threat to Symbian, it imperils the very existence of the platform. And the main reason Symbian is losing share is the user experience which isn’t competitive with Apple or Android. Based on the early previews I’ve seen Symbian 3 looks to have polished a few of the rough edges, but doesn’t fix the problem. So if the weak UI is threatening Symbian’s very survival the Foundation ought to be seriously worried, right? Wrong. I just looked on the Foundation web site and blogs at the roadmap and features for future releases. What I see is too much effort on stuff that really doesn’t matter. For example: Audio policy packages for Symbian, WIFi direct, support for an “open cloud manifesto”, an accredited Symbian developer program for China, better multitasking, multiple personalised home screens, HDMI connection to external TVs, better web runtime support, better internal architecture and so on.

Forget elegant architecture, forget better multitasking, forget Chinese developers, forget release schedules that don’t deliver S4 devices with a new user experience until 2011. None of these matter. People will never use the features if they don’t buy the phone. The situation is now serious enough that any developer who isn’t working on something directly related to a new UI is wasting their time. The S4 UI is a “bet the platform” project. For any organisation to be in a situation where its survival depends on one project is very dangerous, especially when their track record in the area isn’t outstanding. I think the Foundation needs a contingency plan in case the planned S4 interface isn’t radical enough or good enough. Maybe redirect some developers and start a couple of skunkworks projects to create new competing UIs for S4, or perhaps announce a competition with a $1M prize for a new Symbian UI to encourage some radical ideas.

I think the Symbian foundation is just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and ignoring the Android iceberg ahead.

  • Bud

    "Maybe redirect some developers and start a couple of skunkworks projects to create new competing UIs " — Yep. That'll do it. Perhaps they can get tips from Microsoft on how well those competing sunkworks projects turn out (but don't mention "Kin").

    "announce a competition with a $1M prize for a new Symbian UI to encourage some radical ideas" — Don't Symbian have access to enough talented designers that they've gotta throw $1 million out into the blue yonder? "Radical ideas" aren't the problem. Was the original iPhone that radical? No. Apple packaged just the right, well working features that made the device stand out.

    • http://www.asymco.com asymco

      Any attempt at building an asymmetric alternative to the core business will attract the attention and energy of organizational antibodies whose sole mission is to protect the core processes and values. The original Skunk Works was isolated and autonomous and had top management protection. There are guidelines for how to set up such an autonomous organization and ensure it succeeds but it requires extraordinary leadership and vision and is therefore quite rare.