NEW YORK I am naturally loath to dismiss any "born again" person, company, technology or strategy until they get a fair chance to prove themselves. But my sense is that in today's fast-paced, competitive, and often superficial world, one birth is all anyone gets anymore.
And when it comes to the mobile industry's attention and the mindshare of consumers, Symbian is a victim of first birth and longstanding perceptions.
To be blunt, Symbian today lacks the newborn cachet, especially in North America, that has attached to its competition Google's Android, Apple's mobile OS and Palm's webOS.
This is true, despite the fact that the Symbian Foundation recently pulled off the historic feat of completing the open-sourcing of its mobile operation system ahead of schedule.
By making Symbian an open source OS, Nokia engineered a brilliant pre-emptive strike against Android. And yet, opening your OS is by itself no guarantee of success on the mobile market.
After all, as Gerry Purdy, principal analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC, put it, "The world hasn't seen a conclusion yet as to the question of 'open source" vs. 'walled garden.' There is no victor."
Indeed. Otherwise, how to explain the current success of iPhone, Blackberry and Palm?
The very problem of Symbian's future is that its success is still intricately tied to the success of Nokia.
OK. So, what's the harm in having the world's largest handset vendor on your side?
Well, first, the Finnish company is for various reasons virtually AWOL in the U.S. mobile handset market. This may not be a big problem for Nokia over the next six months (because it does have huge share elsewhere, especially in emerging markets). But as many industry analysts point out, Nokia must find success in North America, a market too big to ignore.
Second, if Nokia really strives to succeed in the U.S. market, "Symbian, unfortunately, isn't the answer," said Purdy. I agree. Symbian simply doesn't have enough pull in the U.S. smartphone market. At this point, Symbian has yet to demonstrate that it has the ammunition necessary to make Nokia's smartphone popular among U.S consumers.
Satish Menon at Forward Concepts noted in its recent report that thanks to the iPhone and the introduction of Android phones, North America will emerge as the leading smartphone market in 2010, with a forecast 22 percent share, closely followed by Western Europe at 21.6 percent, and fast-growing China at 17 percent.
If so, Nokia's priority must be in finding a way to become a U.S. player. That may require Nokia to work with Android in the future — although Nokia says this development isn't in the cards. Meanwhile, Symbian must do more to succeed than just open-sourcing.
Now, back to the original question: "Does Symbian matter any more?"
It matters to Nokia. What about the rest of the mobile handset world? Probably not. Symbian, simply, remains a long shot, even with the release of Symbian^3 and its potential to reshape the mobile operating system market.
But then, never say no to the future.
With Symbian^4, scheduled for launch before the end of this year, Symbian is expected to introduce "a whole new graphical approach for the UI," said Lee Williams, executive director at Symbian in a recent interview with ZDNet UK, "by supporting nine different types of displays."
Now, that could be interesting.