Nokia Belle brings Symbian closer to iOS, Android

The second update to Symbian in six months brings the mobile OS closer in user experience to Android or Apple's iOS and will appear on three new handsets, the Nokia 600, 700 and 701

Nokia has revealed the most recent version of the Symbian operating system, called Belle, which brings the OS more closely in line with rivals' platforms.

Nokia 701

Nokia has launched the Belle update to Symbian, alongside three new handsets, including the 701 (above). Photo credit: Nokia

The announcement, made on Wednesday, also introduced the three Nokia handsets that will be among the first to use the Belle OS, the Nokia 600, 700 and 701.

"Symbian Belle and the three new handsets we are launching today show our commitment to continue delivering Symbian products that allow people to choose what is most important to them in terms of user experience, design, functionality and price. These will not be last products or updates we will deliver on Symbian," Ilari Nurmi, vice president at Nokia, said in a statement.

High on the list of Belle's notable features is support for near-field communication (NFC) functionality.

As well as being used for contactless payments and secure entry to buildings, such as on some HTC and BlackBerry smartphones, NFC technology is used in Belle to power wireless streaming of audio between handsets and NFC-enabled wireless headsets.

Alongside the handsets, Nokia introduced an NFC-compatible Bluetooth stereo headset, which can be paired with any Belle-based device by tapping them together once. Photos can also be shared in the same way using NFC between two Belle handsets.

Revamped OS

The revamped Symbian OS, which closely follows on the heels of the announcement of Symbian Anna in April, brings a new status bar to help people keep track of ongoing tasks, open apps, and message and call alerts. It brings a default of six home screens to the platform, giving users the option to add more fully customisable screens by tapping "add a new home screen".

Ahead of the recent Anna update, the Symbian platform was beginning to show its age, particularly as a result of a lack of touch optimisation. The gap between user experience contributed to Nokia's slip from smartphone market leader to holding just 15.5 percent of the market, according to IDC.

However, the Belle update brings the Symbian platform more closely in line with touch-optimised OSes such as Android and Apple iOS.

"The new Symbian Belle is an extraordinary improvement from what Symbian was a year ago," Francisco Jeronimo, research analyst at IDC for mobile devices, said in a statement. "For the first time, the user interface and user experience of Symbian Belle significantly close the gap with Android and iOS user interfaces and will help to attract the current Symbian users to the new Windows Phones to be launched this year."

If Nokia had launched this new Symbian Belle one year ago, the company would have remained the worldwide smartphone market leader.

– Francisco Jeronimo, IDC

"If Nokia had launched this new Symbian Belle one year ago, the company would have remained the worldwide smartphone market leader," he added.

In April, Nokia signed a deal with Microsoft to focus on the Windows Phone OS for its handsets and to phase out its use of Symbian OS. However, chief executive Stephen Elop has stressed that Nokia is still investing in the platform while it goes through the transition and that it will release software updates for Symbian devices until at least 2016.

Jeronimo said delivering the Symbian Anna and Belle updates within six months of each other shows "Nokia can be faster than its competitors in meeting customer expectations" and "total commitment to Symbian".

The 600, 700 and 701 will be among the first devices to be released with the Belle OS on board. However, the OS will be available for older Symbian^3 devices, such as the N8, and Anna handsets, from the fourth quarter.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.