Last week, Lee Williams, executive director at Symbian, stopped by our office to brief me on a new version of the operating system that is going to be released soon. He talked about SEE09, their developer conference in London next week. We discussed a whole bunch […]

Last week, Lee Williams, executive director at Symbian, stopped by our office to brief me on a new version of the operating system that is going to be released soon. He talked about SEE09, their developer conference in London next week. We discussed a whole bunch of things, some of it on video. Toward the end of the video chat, Williams shared his unfiltered views of Google’s Android, including the unease it is causing with handset makers and carriers. I plan on spending the weekend writing a post about Symbian, but in the interim, watch Williams speak his mind about Android. “Android is building a perfect storm of fragmentation,” he said. “I don’t view Apple as evil, just greedy. Google…come on.” Watch the video below the fold.

Right after our Mobilize 09 conference, it became clear that 2010 was going to be the year of Android, thanks to a growing number of Android-powered handsets from makers such as Motorola and Samsung. Some analysts are forecasting that by 2012 it will be the second most popular smartphone OS, behind Symbian, the operating system that powers most of Nokia’s high-end phones. According to Gartner, Android’s share will be at 18 percent of all smartphones sold globally in 2012, or about 94 million users out of 525 million.

(Related GigaOM Pro reports: “With Verizon, Google’s Android Flexes Its Muscles” and “Google’s Mobile Strategy”)

  1. Sounds like they are scared by the competition which Android brings to the market. Given that Nokia and Symbian are great products and platforms respectively. Google brings a level of synergy which neither Nokia nor Symbian in my opinion ever thought of.

    Android is going to be huge there is no doubt!

  2. Om what you did not reveal in you post is that Nokia already owns 48 percent of Symbian and according to http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9975873-7.html had a offer on the table to bu them outright.

    Perhaps this guy Lee Williams from Symbian saw a big cash exit vaporize for real with Android in the game big and now only credible challenger to Apple iPhone ;)

    1. Steve

      It is a well known fact and we have been following the Symbian story for a while. Nokia bought Symbian and then open sourced it, and as a result is not under complete/total control of Nokia. But I take your point!

      1. Thx Om – I knew you had complete viz on this storyline ;)

  3. Sameer Baroova Friday, October 23, 2009

    Mobile OS/platform penetration serves different purposes for each of their promoters. Success of Android will increase Google’s dominance over mobile web search and related revenues, which is what they are primarily after since they do not make money licensing the OS unlike Microsoft does with Windows Mobile. They also stand to make money out of the Android Market, of course. Microsoft would have similar aspirations with their OS hence the wider the penetration the better. Nokia/Symbian should only compare themselves to Apple’s iPhone platform. They make money out of selling the hardware as Apple does and not from the OS itself, and then they would ideally want to capitalize on the OS/platform in every way they can, preferrably in the very way Apple does or even better. Learning from Apple’s initiative, we know that even if iPhones do not have a big market share, they are driving the most web searches and their App store model have a high consumption ratio. Here’s AdMob’s latest report on buying behaviour of Iphone users http://blog.mobileweb.be/2009/08/31/half-of-iphone-users-download-premium-apps-every-month/ Since Nokia have control over both hardware and OS they should try to create products which would engage users even more and make it easier for them to make spending choices to leverage or personalize the products. Since they intend to make people buy newer models of phones, they should create engaging services which would compell users to remain loyal when they decide to change products as well. Symbian might have good penetration but it does not provide a compelling interface for the device nor a convenient way to get content. It is changing with S60 5th edition and later and with the Ovi store and I hope they continue to keep on improving it because only these versions of Symbian will account for success in what they are aiming for (data revenues, content sale revenues, customer retention in hardware sales, etc)

    @Steve Ardire Nokia owns 100% of Symbian Ltd but open sourced the OS under Symbian Foundation http://www.nokia.com/press/press-releases/showpressrelease?newsid=1274570

    -Sameer Baroova @essarbea

    1. Oh please people, for the last time. NOKIA DOES NOT OWN SYMBIAN!! Really, just a tiny bit of attention paid goes a long way. Symbian is a not-for-profit *foundation* (think the Mozilla Foundation) which is controlled by a board of directors, of which no company may have more than one member.

  4. Let’s face it, Lee and Symbian are between a rock and a hard place. Apple has so totally set the bar in terms of user experience, and has also set the bar in terms of proprietary integrated-ness that Android both looks open (in relative terms) and brings the necessary firepower and focus to be a viable alternative to iPhone.

    Lee is right, though, that there are only two likely scenarios that play out if Android succeeds. One, the handset guys and carriers get further hollowed out (and especially the handset guys since they have no path to recurring revenue).

    Or, two the carriers and handset guys avoid marginalization by becoming proprietary themselves, which of course fragments the ecosystem.

    It’s a Faustian bargain where the alternatives suck worse.

    p.s., As to your question of whether the handset guys get this, the truth is that handset folks are hardware-centric first, second and third, and as such, only grok how the software game REALLY works in the abstract. Case in point, look how mightily RIM has struggled to innovate on software/services/tools front, despite an integrated hardware/software/service orientation.


  5. I thought he might cry when he was talking about Android!
    This interview just confirms my impression that Symbian is on the way out. It will be a slow road, but he’s advocating helping the operators to retain control of the customer. It’s complete nonsense.
    Symbian seems to be targetting the low end of the market and trying to consolidate in that space, but it will be a shrinking market, especially once it becomes easier to put the other operating systems on cheaper devices.
    Which system will have the most apps, the most utility to the user? I doubt it will ever be Symbian, therefore what unique selling point do they have? They allow the user to be tightly coupled to the operator? they prevent other organisations getting access to your behaviours to offer you relevant products? It’s not a story many would sign up for…

  6. Steve Ballmer throwing chairs, and now this public meltdown by a Nokia executive, are *exactly* the kind of reaction I want to see as a consumer. The tide is ( finally ) turning in our favor.

    Those who prosper on making us miserable call it “fragmentation”, but consumers call it “highly competitive free market.”

    Evolve or die Mr. Williams ( Verizon seems to be doing so, Re: Droid and their new found Net Neutrality support )

    1. Agreed! It took Symbian a decade to get that the product needed to evolve at a less than glacial pace. It’s almost sad.

      Thankfully, we now have multiple mobile OSes — Android, iPhone; WebOS — allowing us to develop products in the mobile space outside of the control of the software vendors, hardware designers, and telecoms. That is called innovation!

      Welcome to 2009 Symbian. Nokia, better get that Maemo stuff working on a broader set of products, including the netbook. This should have happened when EPOC was purchased from Psion, not a decade later!

  7. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” — Upton Sinclair

  8. Lee is not a Nokia executive. Read the article.

  9. Thumbs up for Lee. Great stuff.

  10. It was good to see you Om.

    As Brendan rightly points out, I am not a Nokia executive. My group does benefit from the contributions that Nokia and many others in the mobile industry are making to our efforts. However, our experiences and opinions are our own.

    We are focused on evolving the platform as rapidly as possible. More than that, we work day over day to execute a business model and align with and guide companies so that consumers get more empowerment, and the better mobile products that they deserve.

    Check us out, we do more than carry opinions, we have a wicked roadmap and we listen ;-)

    // Lee


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