Nokia Might Have Perfect Timing With New Symbian Versions

Multi-touch capability is fast becoming a must for many mobile device owners. It’s one of the few “nice to have” features I miss most as I seem to be migrating from iPhone (s aapl) to Android (s goog) for my primary handset, for example. And it appears that Nokia (s nok) is making strides towards adding it across their vast product platform. I haven’t seen any official press release out of Nokia, but DigiTimes is today reporting that Symbian v.3 will gain multi-touch in the third quarter of 2010. The time-frame was provided my Michael Hsu, the general manager of Nokia Taiwan.

A full-blown Symbian release in the second half of 2010 actually jives with Nokia’s previously stated operational plans for the year. Back in December, the company set expectations with two Symbian releases planned for 2010, although at that time, details were very high level. Here’s a recap of the relevant bits from when I analyzed the plans:

  • Re-engineer the Symbian user interface — Nokia plans to deliver one major product milestone by the middle of 2010, followed by another before the end of 2010. That sounds like two hefty Symbian releases to tweak the interface.
  • Deliver the first Maemo 6-powered mobile computer, with an iconic user experience, in the second half of 2010 — If you thought the N900 is drool-worthy, I expect what follows to build upon the N900’s positives and address many of the negatives. The question may be one of app availability.

Interestingly, Hsu also told DigiTimes that Nokia plans to skip a version 2 of Symbian and jump right to v.3. All things considered, version numbers don’t hold much weight, but perhaps Nokia is making a statement with a jump like this. If the interface and functionality are vastly different, I could imagine a marketing asset along these lines: “This new Symbian is so improved over the current that it’s an injustice to call it version 2, so we’re tagging it version 3. Really — it’s that much better!”

Although a revamped user interface and multi-touch are welcome, the following Symbian release is worth watch out for as well. DigiTimes says version 4 is planned for late 2010 or early 2011. And while Maemo is only expected to account for 10% of Nokia sales by 2011, it too is looking at a revamp in the second half of this year, in the form of Maemo 6. Symbian version 4 is expected to see Qt cross-platform integration, which should appeal to developers and bring more software titles to Symbian, as well as Maemo, handsets. That would certainly help address the “app availability” question I posed in December.

While Nokia has clearly been on a downward trend in the overall smartphone market of late, it did post solid market share and profit growth numbers in the last quarter of 2009, which could help reverse the trend. And if those sales numbers continue, or even grow further, during 2010, the company may be timing the Symbian and Maemo updates just right.