Symbian still key to Nokia's smartphone game

Despite company's decision to use MeeGo for its high-end N-series devices, the Symbian platform will help drive growing volume of lower-priced smartphones, says analyst.

Symbian will continue to be a key component of Nokia's mobile strategy, with the potential to help the Finnish handset maker drive the growing smartphone segment of its mobile portfolio, according to an analyst.

This despite Nokia's plans to phase out the Symbian platform from its high-end N-series smartphones. The company said last month that the N8 will be the last of its N-series devices to run Symbian, with future devices in this range running on the Linux MeeGo platform.

Nokia has been facing tough competition in the high-end phone segment, prompting its new mobile solutions head to reveal in a blog post last week that he is "obsessed with getting Nokia back to being number one in high-end devices".

Platform to drive low-end
Tim Shepherd, analyst at Canalys, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview that the handset maker's decision to tap Meego for its high-end smartphones was not surprising.

Announced in February, MeeGo is essentially a combination of Nokia's Maemo effort with Intel's Moblin Linux distribution.

"Clearly, Nokia needed a platform to drive smartphones to lower price points and Symbian is the natural fit for that," Shepherd explained. "At the same time, what we saw Nokia starting to use Maemo for, was…the N900 which is a high-end smartphone and an N-series product."

"So, no big surprise then that MeeGo will be used in a similar way or be expanded to cover those products at the high-end of its N-series portfolio."

Shepherd further noted that Nokia is moving to a strategy where MeeGo will power top-end smartphones, while Symbian will be pushed to low-end models in its smartphone portfolio to run devices at "lower price points from previously seen".

"We see Symbian continuing to be very important to Nokia, and [the company] will use it to drive increased volumes in its smartphone portfolio as smartphones become a larger proportion of its overall mobile portfolio," the analyst said.

Symbian's significance would remain high as smartphones become increasingly popular in emerging markets, he added.

"Consumers want to engage with applications and services on their phones--smartphones are a great platform for doing that," Shepherd said. "Nokia has the ability to use the Symbian platform, leverage its scale and deliver affordably- priced smartphones to the mass market."

Tim Renowden, analyst at Ovum, concurred and noted that with MeeGo slated for Nokia's high-end segment, Symbian would be a focus in mid-tier smartphones.

The move "is not necessarily a bad thing as there is potential to ship huge volumes of devices in this segment", Renowden said in an e-mail.

Shepherd added that he does not expect Nokia to rely on MeeGo beyond the high-end smartphone and mobile computing segment, and Symbian will be the platform of choice for its lower-end smartphones for the "foreseeable future".

Renowden said while Symbian runs on less powerful hardware, MeeGo requires "fairly powerful hardware to run well, which will take some time to drift down to cheaper products".

A Nokia spokesperson said in an e-mail that the company "remains committed to the Symbian platform and its role in bringing smartphones to the masses". The handset manufacturer will continue to support and play an active role in the platform's evolution under the Symbian Foundation, she added.


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