Nokia times first Symbian updates for 'early 2011'

Nokia's new approach of incrementally upgrading Symbian phones will bear fruit next year, with a new browser and changes to the handsets' input mechanisms

The first updates to current Symbian phones will appear in the first half of next year, Nokia said on Tuesday.

At the Symbian Exchange & Exposition (SEE2010) in Amsterdam, the handset manufacturer — which said on Monday that it was bringing development of Symbian back in-house — said the first updates would include the addition of split-screen text entry, a Qwerty keyboard that works when the phone is in portrait mode, integrated Swype input and a new browser.

New Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop revealed in October that there would no longer be a sharp break between Symbian^3 — the version found in handsets including the N8 and C7 — and what was to be the upcoming Symbian^4. Instead, Symbian^4 has been scrapped and features that were due to be released in that version will be gradually added to the current handset range, so as to improve the user experience.

"In early 2011, there will be things like split-screen text entry, portrait Qwerty and Swype integrated into the UI, as well as a new browser and a new browsing experience that is much more modern," Nokia smartphone chief Jo Harlow told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "The updates will come in the first half of 2011."

"The difference is that typically when we've introduced a new range of Nokia devices, maybe they got one or two updates. Now, for the whole lifetime of the devices, there will be updates. It's an opportunity for us to bring new content and further improvements to the user interface," added Harlow.

The announcement on Monday ended a period of just over two years in which Symbian was being open-sourced under the purview of the Symbian Foundation, which was set up by Nokia and others after the Finnish company bought out the whole Symbian platform. Partly because of Sony Ericsson and Samsung's decision to stop making new Symbian phones, the foundation decided to scale back to being a licensing organisation with Nokia taking the reins of the platform's development.

Although Nokia has yet to detail the approach it will take to Symbian's open-source licensing, Symbian Foundation head Tim Holbrow sought to reassure SEE2010 delegates that the shift "doesnt mean we're changing any of these licences or changing to a proprietary model or starting to charge for the Symbian platform".

On Tuesday at the Amsterdam show, the Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo unveiled 12 new Symbian devices made by Fujitsu and Sharp — the only manufacturers other than Nokia that are still using the platform. However, these handsets run on the now-aged and not fully open-source Symbian^2.