Nokia Needs to Step on the Symbian 3 Gas Pedal

It used to be that I’d see a new Nokia handset launched every few days — at least it felt that way — but lately, that pace appears to have slowed. The company released three new social networking-focused devices earlier this month, but my perception is that Nokia is currently focused more on software over hardware. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, as Nokia has plenty of handset models to peddle. Even with this perceived focus shift, however, Nokia can’t get its new Symbian 3 platform out the door fast enough to square off against increased competition.

The company offered a peek of Symbian 3 in February of this year — see the video demo below — and said phones built atop of it would ship in the third quarter of this year. Nokia isn’t late from a delivery perspective, but unfortunately, new iPhone 4.0 hardware is expected in June or July, Google is poised to launch Android 2.2 as early as the company’s I/O conference next month and Research in Motion has an operating system refresh in the works. So the only major smartphone platform that Nokia will beat to market with certainty — pending any internal delays, of course — is Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, which is slated to arrive in time for the holidays.

Aside from the fast-paced platform changes, I agree with Larry Dignan of ZDNet who today writes that: “Companies like Apple and Research in Motion are touting big gains in international sales, notably China. Nokia is dominant in most regions, but the competition will increase.” Indeed, over the past six months, Apple sales topped $1.2 billion in China while iPhone sales alone jumped 474 percent in the Asia-Pacific region.

Facing that growth from a competitor in a huge international market while other challengers are updating their own platforms, Nokia needs to get Symbian out the door in a hurry. Om probably underscores my concern best when discussing the new operating system in his interview with Nokia Chairman, CEO and President Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo: “I’m not holding my breath, however, mostly because I think the guys at Apple and Android are innovating at Internet speed.” The market is moving faster than Nokia is right now. Once Symbian 3 arrives, we’ll know for sure if Nokia has leapfrogged the competition, only just caught up or is still a few steps behind.

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