Nokia + open source Symbian: too little, too late

TechCrunch: Nokia Acquires Symbian – Goes 3. Hear that sound? That’s the sound of Fake Steve Jobs just itching to skewer somebody, but since he’s on vacation I’ll do it instead.

Make no mistake: this is a defensive move by Nokia in response to the iPhone and Android, not an offensive one. Five years ago, an open source OS for smartphones might really have made the market. Now Nokia’s not even calling the tune any more: with Motorola, Samsung and LG eating them away on the low end, and RIM, the Windows Mobile folks, and Apple eating them away on the high end, pretty soon there’s not going to be much left in the middle.

I enjoyed the Symbian phone that I used from 2003 to 2005, but Symbian didn’t move quickly enough with the OS and it became stale. It doesn’t smell any better now. When you have unnamed senior execs inside Nokia calling Symbian a POS, you’ve got problems.

And what about units? Those 291 million handsets you sold in Q1? They’re legacy products. Apple sold 6 million in the iPhone’s first year as a brand new market entrant even without the benefit of enterprise mail integration or independent developers. Now granted, you can sit fat and happy on your 291 million units shipped, or you can reflect on the fact that you shipped 100 million of them in the last 18 months, and the other 100 million are in all likelihood no longer in use since your European customer base replaces its phones every 12 to 25 months, and the US customer base every 17.6. Is your market really still growing, or did you just sell replacement Symbian handsets to your existing customers?

And I haven’t even talked about Android yet–it’s probably a trainwreck, but it’s from Google so it’s going to exert some market pressure on you too.

And your developers are talking crap about the OS, too. And I can’t blame them. Which would you rather write apps for: an OS that’s forked three ways, requires you to use a crippled version of C++ with weird string handling practices and proprietary error handling, and needs a downlevel version of Visual Studio, all of a sudden the iPhone’s development frameworks and XCode look like nirvana.

So, guys: if your competition is a competitor who’s locked up the enterprise and a user centric market innovator, I’m afraid that open sourcing the OS (the POS OS) is not going to save the company. Maybe if there were already a bunch of really talented individual developers working on creating a great mobile experience, but guess what? They’re on Apple’s platform now, not yours.

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