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Who’s Afraid Of Apple & Google? Not Symbian

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[qi:83] The recent entry of Apple (AAPL) and the looming Google (GOOG) OS for mobiles are a cause of concern for everyone – from handset makers to mobile carriers. Their mobile forays should be of serious concern for Mobile OS makers such as Microsoft (MSFT) and Symbian. While Apple wants to gobble up the high-end smart phone market, Google wants to come from below and commoditize the Mobile OS business.

Jerry Panagrossi, vice president of US operations for smart phone OS maker, doesn’t seem to be too worried (or doing an awesome job of faking it) about the two competitive threats to his London-based company’s livelihood.


“The US market for smart phones has been mostly enterprise related, but Apple has jump started the consumer demand for smart phone,” he said in a chat earlier today at our offices. “Apple’s market share gains show that devices can make a difference,” said Panagrossi.

He believes now handset makers will start thinking about making interesting and innovative handsets available in the US. Hopefully some of them will be using Symbian’s mobile OS, commonly found in high-end Nokia (NOK) and Sony Ericsson (SNE) mobile phones.

The number of Symbian-based phones increased 44% to 34.6 million in the first six months of 2007 from 24 million in 1H 2006, with a quarter of those sales coming from Japan. The recent success of Nokia N95 and E-Series phones has also helped Symbian boost its revenues to about $172 million. It is not clear if the company turned a profit.


Nokia will soon launch a US 3G version of its best selling N95 phone soon, and hopefully that will be enough to jump start OS maker’s anemic market share in the US market. I don’t know how they are going to do that unless they come up with smart phones for CDMA-based carriers.

Yet, they seem to be in buoyant mood. Symbian forecasts that US demand for smart phones is going to get into high gear around Christmas time and will grow at a rapid clip through most of 2008. That means new mobile handsets in the US.

Symbian team was carrying the new Motorola (MOT) Z8 slider that is based on their OS, and it did look pretty sweet. (It was a remarkable improvement over Motorola’s UI.) Most of the newer Symbian-based phones include Motorola Z8 are packed with multimedia features, thanks to a recent upgrade of the OS by the company.

Symbian predicts that most of the high-end features found in Japanese handsets such as advanced 3G, motion sensors and TV playback are going to become commonplace in 2008. The push he believes will come from the carriers, they believe.

“Our experience shows that when the mobile market reaches a level of maturity, the demand for smart phones grows sharply,” Panagrossi said, pointing to Japan and Europe as examples. “In a saturated market innovation around handsets becomes a key factor.”

“Apple has raised the bar in term of usability, and there are many fast followers (handset makers such as LG and Samsung) who are taking notice,” he points out. At present there are three UIs on top of Symbian – Nokia’s S60, Sony Ericsson’s UIQ and MOAP (very popular in Japan) and possibility exists that another UI could emerge in the near future.

When asked about Google OS, Symbian folks said that all that is out there has been rumors. When it happens, they will talk about it at that point. Panagrossi said that the company has spent over $750 million on developing its OS, and has a developer network, along with partnerships with handset makers and carriers, that others will have to develop.

“We have been doing this for ten years, and it has taken us many man years to come up with a mature solution,” he said. Lets hope that is enough.

27 Responses to “Who’s Afraid Of Apple & Google? Not Symbian”

  1. gquaglia

    Sorry but Symbian doesn’t have a chance in the US. First off, only Nokia uses it here. The problem with that is Nokia’s refusal to make CDMA phones, which are a big chunk of US sales. I guess it has something to do with Euro snobbery or GSM rules, but who cares since their phones are ugly anyway. Second, M$ Win Mobile already has a big foot hold. WM sucks, I know, but that hasn’t stopped M$ from being successful. BB OS is gaining and Google’s OS will be big. Sorry Symbian, best stay in Europe and Asia.

  2. Techmine – I think the reverse of your argument is the case actually. Most manufacturers have far too many handsets on the market creating a nightmare for support and configuration (which, at present, tends to still land in the customer’s hands).

    Apple have been very smart by always having a very limited line-up of iPods and each new one boots an old one off the scene, they’re very seldom added to. Each one is also a subtle evolution of the one before, so the paradigm and usability of them remains consistent. Most mobiles are a complete disaster in this regard. Market segmentation in the way it’s currently executed is awkward and confusing for customers. Apple know how to make hardware that is pleasant and simple to configure and use and it’s what the smartphone market has being crying out for for ages.

    Also, it’s a mistake to equate the iPhone with smartphones only. The smart part of the iPhone is that it crosses those market segments, from people who would have just bought an iPod, to those people wanting the mobile web (properly done) to the ‘usual’ smart phone users.

    It’s just plain short-sighted and arrogant of the Symbian folks to say “we’ve been doing it for 10 years” suggesting that others couldn’t do it better. In ten years they should have come up with a better solution than the hash-up they have right now. I seem to remember Palm’s CEO bragging that Apple couldn’t just “walk into” the mobile market. Apple have been in the business longer than both of them. Google also have more, arguably much smarter folk working for them too.

  3. Tom Coseven

    With AAPL’s statement today that they may bid on the 700MHz, it is looking more and more like a battle between GOOG and AAPL. Can’t imagine MSFT or RIMM going this route, and Symbiam… who would they partner with? The stakes are getting higher.

  4. mocorocker

    I think that in the medium-long term, the real threat to Symbian will not be Apple nor Google but Microsoft. And not because they have a better product or not (that factor alone rarely makes the difference on who wins) but because they have a better strategic position and deeper pockets (not to mention really aggressive smart people running the ship).

    One thing is sure, it is pretty stupid for anyone in Symbian to underestimate Google, Apple or MSFT (and even worse, to say so publicly).

    Pretty, pretty, dumb…


  5. With the new ipod touch, we really now see how defensive a move the iphone was. I’d rather be in the MP3 player business than the phone business — direct to consumer and better margins. However, new smartphones have the potential to eat ipods alive. Also, use the free iphone PR to migrate ipods users to a new UI. Apple will never be a good phone company — can’t work with partners — but can use the multitouch to keep the ipod market alive for a few more years.

    Great move by Apple to a 5 year contracts with AT&T. They can now open up the itouch and then go back to AT&T and say, hey, if we don’t open this up it will be cannibalized by itouch sales. Great for the consumer; bad for AT&T.

  6. We have been doing this for ten years, and it has taken us many man years to come up with a mature solution, …..

    Good grieve, that sounds like somebody from IBM or DEC in the late 80’s.

    Anyhow, let’s step back and look at the other announcement. Starbucks.

    Now if we combine that with a “few” more chains. Let Google use all it’s data, and soon we have a very targeted advertising platform that all those Companies will pay a premium for. Just to show up on you phone if you get in proximity of one of those stores. They will even know what you looked for and which prize you might have in mind, based on your last search.

    How many chains will happily provide Wifi just for that reason. So maybe we get Muni Wifi after all, just a different one.

    And Google doesn’t need to subsidize phones the old way, just link Google data to phone in use to company store in proximity.

  7. I have the N95. The feature set is amazing. So deep in every direction. But at this stage I hate Symbian. It looks like MacOS 9 (ie it is stuck in the past). The responsiveness of this OS on the N95 is simply not good enough.

    And don’t get me started on visual design consistency.

    I would also like to add that both the browser and the Clock app have recently stopped launching all together.

    Again: The N95 hardware is amazing and I use many of the phone’s amazing features. But I just don’t think Symbian has a chance with its current OS, especially given Apple’s UI challenge.

  8. Tom Coseven

    Symbian’s situation was bad and it just got worse.

    The bad…
    1) Linux for phones has finally made it.
    2) RIM is actively transitioning to a software company targeting Symbian’s main customer Nokia.
    3) Phone software margins continue to contract.

    The worse…
    1) gPhone is near.
    2) iPhone price cut.
    3) The Apple Touch could be a big deal if (when) it supports WiMax. Many enterprise users hate their big clunky smartphone, but love push email. Give them a small voice phone they can throw in their pocket to go anywhere, combined with a separate email/web browser gadget, and they will be much happier. Before the Touch they needed to constantly switch SIMs or carry two phones (on a Verizon or Sprint family plan). John Chambers on CNBC yesterday said he uses 4 mobile phones. WiFi/WiMax will be great for the US, but for Europe the Apple will need Bluetooth to the mobile phone to make the Touch a Foleo.

  9. Google manage to give convenience with not string attaches. whereas Apple is trend setter , which has become status symbol as well.

    you see this is all about human psychology , which both managed to grab than any specific solution for desperate problem.

  10. Oh yes, Google should not come up with a cheap looking and very simple (Text search centric) OS. They should better be advance in everything, if not better than Apple and Symbian. Its already very late in the game.

  11. Apple’s theory is interesting. The same old hardware-software combo. One reason why Apple (Mac) in not widely seen in the computer world. The same thing is with iPhone. The problem is, the hardware comes only in 1 flavor 8GB iPhone. So the chances of penetrating the market with only 1 product is difficult. Either Apple should increase the phone line up or distribute the OS just like Windows Mobile. you just cannot beat Symbian at this stage (with partners like nokia and Sony ericsson)

  12. Mobile OS is becoming a very frayed market. Is there a driver to create a single OS monopoly on mobiles like Microsoft did to the Windows desktop?

    Will the enterprise dictate future demand? Is Apple following the same path as the PC – catering to consumer and ignoring the business world? Unified Communications could be the most important factor in a future handset.