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Is Symbian a sinking ship?

Symbian^4 is make or break time for the troubled platform, Gartner claims, accusing the Symbian Foundation of being oblivious to just how much trouble it is in.

Sinking ship

Symbian's already shrinking market share is only going to get smaller, Gartner analyst Nick Jones has warned, suggesting the mobile operating system is doing little more than "re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic".

Pointing to soon-to-be-released data showing the rate of decline in Symbian's market share is in fact accelerating, Jones argues on the Gartner blog that Symbian simply doesn't match the user experience offered by the increasingly popular Android and iPhone OS 4.0, and suggests little in the latest Symbian^3 update as seen in the new Nokia N8 is likely to change that.

This despite the Symbian Foundation having made the operating system's code open source in February in a bid to spur its popularity with developers and handset makers.

"The main reason Symbian is losing share is the user experience, which isn't competitive with Apple or Android. Based on the early previews I've seen Symbian^3 looks to have polished a few of the rough edges, but doesn't fix the problem."

The bedrock of Symbian's majority market share comes from so-called "dumb phones", which sell high volumes at the lower end of the market because of their simplicity and affordability.

However, the increasing market shift to app-supported smartphones such as those running Google's Android and Apple's iPhone OS is leaving Symbian with an increasingly narrow wedge, one that is now comfortably smaller than 50 per cent worldwide and shrinking all the time.

Even long-standing mainstay Nokia, which bought the platform in 2008 and set up the Symbian Foundation, has chosen to subtly shift priorities towards MeeGo, the Linux-based OS it has developed alongside Intel.

Despite that, Jones claims the Symbian Foundation appears to be completely unconcerned, and with "the weak UI threatening Symbian's very survival", warns that the next Symbian^4 release may be the last if this doesn't change.

"I just looked on the Foundation website and blogs at the roadmap and features for future releases," Jones revealed. "What I see is too much effort on stuff that really doesn't matter. Forget elegant architecture, forget better multitasking, forget Chinese developers, forget release schedules that don't deliver Symbian^4 devices with a new user experience until 2011.

"People will never use the features if they don't buy the phone. The situation is now serious enough that any developer who isn't working on something directly related to a new UI is wasting their time. The Symbian^4 UI is a 'bet the platform' project. For any organisation to be in a situation where its survival depends on one project is very dangerous, especially when their track record in the area isn't outstanding.

"I think the Symbian Foundation is just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and ignoring the Android iceberg ahead."

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