Smartphones Now: Symbian


Ask the average American about Symbian and they’ll look at you blankly. In the grand pantheon of mobile OSes, it is the dashing, shadowy figure with the charming accent to sneaks into your life through Nokia and some Sony Ericsson phones.

At its core, Symbian is fairly basic. It works as equally well on a basic candybar phone as it does on one of S-E’s high end personal communicators. Interestingly enough, Symbian — not Sybian (do a Google search) — is also showing up on some Samsung models, mostly in Asia, and partners shipped 20.4 million Symbian smartphones in Q3 adding to the 165 million Symbian phones in circulation. Trust me. You’ve seen a Symbian phone.

“Symbian dominates the planet,” said Sascha Segan, mobile phone analyst for PC World magazine. “However, we here in the United States do not live on that planet.”

“Symbian is Nokia’s house band, though on Saturday afternoons they practice in Motorola and Sony Ericsson’s garages. Symbian’s success is largely dependent on Nokia and S-E’s successes, not the other way around. So as long as Nokia dominates the planet and Sony Ericsson is a rising player, Symbian will be quite relevant globally. And as long as Nokia shows their utter incompetence in the US market, Symbian will be pretty much irrelevant here.”

The current Symbian version is Symbian OS 9.5. It has a multi-threaded kernel — it can run multiple apps at once — and supports all major memory types. Programmers can use C++ or Java to write applications and it uses a standard SQL database for data storage and retrieval, meaning programmers don’t have to learn much more than a few query commands.

Symbian is also giving the iPhone — and definitely WinMo 6 — a run for its money in the graphics front. The operating system supports audio and video streaming, recording, and playback. There are also transparency options and OpenGL support as well as digital TV and FM radio support built-in. GPS and media player add-ons are just the gravy in this fully-featured OS.

So what will happen if you move to Symbian? Well, depending on the phone you choose, not much or nothing at all. Nokia and other Symbian licensees usually include desktop software for OS X and Windows to sync contacts with Outlook and maintain your image and music collections.

Symbian also has full third-party support with plenty of apps. Sites like Handango offer a system for searching for games and applications that work with your handset.

pcsuite_682.pngI’ve used a few Symbian phones in my day and the most difficult aspect is using the OS on a phone without a QWERTY keyboard. This isn’t quite the problem it once was, but unless you’re a touch-T9er with fingers of fury, it can be hard to send messages and even add email accounts to your phone. Fortunately, Symbian is most popular in places where kids are texting while still in the womb.

“I could say that Symbian is strong because it’s a low-overhead, phone-centric platform that thinks of communication first,” said Mr. Segan. “It comes from a phone perspective rather than a PDA perspective. But let’s be realistic. Symbian is strong because Nokia pushes it.”

That said, the OS is also going strong here where Nokia uses it in almost every phone the sell here — whether through a carrier or on their NSeries website. As I mentioned before, you’ve probably seen it but you probably don’t know where. Unlike a number of other mobile OSes, Symbian just works and works well and, most importantly, stays the heck out of the way.

Symbian Developer Facts is the place to start when searching for Symbian info
Symbian Developer Facts is the place to start when searching for Symbian info

A Symbian fan site
AllAboutSymbian In depth Symbian info
Handango Handango’s Symbian site features lots of great applications and games
AllAboutSymbian In depth Symbian info
Fring Free mobile IM and VoIP
QIK Live streaming video chat on newer Nokias

Five Cool Symbian Apps from
Gizmo Project
– Enjoy easy instant messaging and inexpensive calls – both Internet call & call out – enriched with presence. Install the Gizmo client on your device to start using instant messaging (IM), presence and Internet calls. After installing the application you are able to create an account or use the existing Gizmo username and password. With a WLAN connection you are able to use all the features, and IM and presence are available even when you are connected over 2G or 3G.

WorldMate – The most comprehensive travel software around, Worldmate provides travelers with information that organizes all their travel needs. With WorldMate you will have access to the most critical information when you need it most – including Weathercaster, Global Weather Forecasts, World Clocks, Currency Converter, Comprehensive Flight Schedules and Real-Time Flight Status, among other things.

Sling – SlingPlayer™ Mobile lets you watch your TV and all of its programming on your Windows Mobile, Palm OS or Symbian cell phones and PDAs. This means you’ll have out-of-this-world mobility – or perhaps we should say all-around-the-world mobility.

Mobipocket Reader – Mobipocket Reader Pro 4.8 transforms Series 60 device into a universal eBook Reader. The application enables Series 60 device users to read more than 17 000 eBooks in all categories from all major US, German, France and Spanish publishers. For optimal reading experience, the application allows end users to custom fonts and to use full screen, full text justification and even auto scroll.

Slifter – Shopping is a local experience, and Slifter helps you make the most of it. Slifter uses the global positioning system (GPS) location capabilities of your S60 3rd Edition device to bring you up-to-date local information on products in your vicinity (or in the vicinity of any ZIP code that you specify). Slifter allows you to search for and find more than 100 million products at nearly 50,000 locations in the U.S. These locations include hundreds of major retailers, such as Best Buy, Circuit City, and Toys “R” Us, as well as thousands of independent shops.