Monday, March 12, 2007

Symbian vs iPhone

I've found a link (thanks, Peter, for sharing) to an interesting article that details why iPhone's (and Apple's) OSX is better than Symbian OS and how it's going to beat it. I have some thoughts about the author's arguments, let me share them.

In most regards, Symbian's reputation as a modern, robust, stable and advanced OS for smartphones is not well deserved. Sure, Symbian works, it has a very long feature list, and it's probably even the best smartphone OS available today. But it's mostly because the competition is pathetic than anything else.

I must disagree with this statement. You might argue that the OS is not modern as lots of "not-so-new" features, such as STL, is not included, but this does not necessarily mean that it's not modern at all. How can you claim that the system is not robust, stable or advanced? How do you measure it? I don't think Symbian OS is worse in general than its competitors. On the contrary, I believe it's very robust and stable. Just an evidence: it can run for days, weeks without having to reboot it. Just show me another (preferably open) mobile OS that can do the same. And you mentioned that it had a very long feature list and the OS was the best today. Based upon all of this why do you say that the OS has not deserved to be the #1 OS for mobile phones?

The Three Symbians
From one point of view, there are no ‘Symbian’ phones in the market, but rather three incompatible and diverging OSs: NTT DoCoMo's Symbian MOAP for Asia, Nokia’s Symbian S60, and Sony Ericsson’s Symbian UIQ.

You're right and wrong. You're right that there is a very thick layer (S60, UIQ and MOAP) on top of the core Symbian OS that makes the three platforms incompatible at some extent. But you're wrong, because you can minimize the difference between these variants with some clever effort. For example, most engine components can be written with a common codebase. Which is not true if you compare different OSes like Windows, Palm, etc.

On the other hand, there's no better solution, I'm afraid. Neither Java nor Linux brings us the *ultimate solution*. And I'm sure it's clear for everyone why I'm not talking about WinCE here. Unfortunately, mobile OS market seems to be heading to divergence rather than convergence.

Finally, variation for iPhone and OSX is not an issue here as there is nothing to variate yet.

To make it even worse from a third party developer's point of view, Nokia and Symbian made the new S60 version 3 binary incompatible to previous versions of S60. So none of your old Symbian apps will work on any new phones (i.e. if you actually bought any :-).

You shouldn't be so cynical. Actually lots of phones have already been sold that are based on S60 3rd Edition. It's just one thing that you do not know it.

Symbian Signed
So much for independently third-party software development on Symbian compared to the ‘closed’ model used on iPhone. In practice the difference is not that big. Apple will, of course, allow close partners to develop apps like they do with iPod Games today.

"In practice", the difference is HUGE imho. In case you have not noticed, Symbian phones are not closed as opposed to (the almost) closed iPhone. I presume that to be a close partner of Apple will be much more difficult than to have your application Symbian Signed. And in lots of cases your application doesn't even have to be Symbian Signed - it all depends on what you want to use on the phone. You know, most applications are able to run smoothly with the most basic capabilities (or even without them) that do not require your application to be signed. I suggest you to take some lessons on how Symbian Signed works before judging it.

And you know, this is the price phone manufacturers have to pay to operators in order for their device to be sold. I believe it's still better than not being chosen as a 'close partner'.

Symbian Design Issues
... entire section ...

While I agree with you with regards to most of the technical issues you listed, I have one question: what do you expect from Symbian to do? Do you expect them to withdraw all those design decisions that they've made during those days when it was reasonable to make those decisions? You know, it's easy to criticize, but very hard to offer alternatives ... Not to mention the fact that it would most probably introduce another bunch of source/binary breaks in most programs. Obiously, it would be especially painful these days since we have not yet recovered from the shock of Platform Security. Instead, Symbian should make a smooth transition from old design to new (if it's reasonable), which will naturally take some time.

Analysts Wrong on Symbian
Most media in Sweden (and elsewhere) have reported that the iPhone is nothing new at all. It's mainly a nice package with limited/bad hardware and nothing particularly new on the software side.

Isn't that true?

However, if you look at the speed and effort needed to make new applications on iPhone compared with other platforms it's two completely different worlds.

I'm a little bit confused: does it make sense to make new applications for iPhone? Most probably you won't be able to install them at all.

Existing Mobile Platforms vs OS X
With Symbian (as well as WinCE, Palm OS, and I suppose also the Linux phones because they probably have a very limited number of Linux frameworks installed because of memory restrictions etc) you have a big problem to deliver on the marketing hype and media expectations because of all limitations. This is one of the reasons all mobile services are failing to badly—it's simply to hard and complicated to deliver the market expectations with today's platforms.

At this point I must admit that I have never used OSX (consequently never programmed for it, either). But regardless of that still wondering how OSX and iPhone overrule the rest of the mobile platforms?

Five Years Ahead
... entire section ...

Well, here I again must admit that I have never used Objective-C in my life. Thus, I can't make my own decision about this issue based on my own experience. What I have heard, though, from people who had used it is that it was very uncomfortable for them to use that language. And they felt sort of a freedom when they had changed from ObjC to C++. There weas no-one who told me that ObjC was (a) better (experience) than C++. Knowing that, is it really the language, the foundation, based on which a new mobile OS will rise and overrule the others? I don't think so, but please disprove me.

Nevertheless, I can see that you're right at some point. There're lots of things to improve, only a few examples:
- Documentation ==> developers spend a lot of time with browsing technical documentation. And it's by far not perfece/complete. One of the main (true) complaints about learning Symbian is that it has a very long learning curve. Although I think we're heading to the right direction (good examples in the SDKs, good and thorough books, trainings, forums, etc.) it still takes too much time for a beginner to get used to Symbian. We definitely need more better tools, for example, Carbide.C++'s UI Designer is another good step to the right direction. And Symbian and its stakeholders must realize it and take actions against it (I mean, the long learning process) in order for developers still to be motivated to write programs for Symbian.

- Tools ==> it's a cliche that there's no ultimate tool for Symbian development. What is even more painful that there is no single *free* tool that anybody could use with great benefit. For example, when Nokia made a political decision about not to support MS Visual Studio in their SDKs they should have already come out with a better alternative instead of MS VS. Not with CodeWorrier, of course. I believe that instead of investing so much money and time in CW Nokia should have turned to open source community sooner and then we would have a better, more stable and useful tool (Carbide.C++) by now. In my opinion, if Symbian and "their companion" want to give a boost to Symbian development, then they should provide/use free tools that simply work. Okay, it's easy to say, but still...

Migrated from Forum Nokia Blogs.



shahidsidd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
King Of**Rainbow said...

It's funny to look back on previously comments before the iPhone actually launched.
Well it turns out that you can actually install apps on the iPhone (Although so far non have been "productive").
I'm still trying to understand why Apple is blocking native 3rd party apps still. I think they are not ready for it yet, they want a highly centralized distribution system.
Also, the guy has a point, how many 3rd party mobile apps are actually "useful" on the market today? Most of the useful software are actually built by the original maker.

Which begs me to ask, what other phones out there today can offer new functionalities via software updates? And I mean a simple way that everyone will know how to use, not downloading a zip file and some bozo flashing tool that can turn your phone into a brick.

The one thing iPhone really really shines on, is it's expandability (really due to the well established cocoa framework). Steve was right, the iPhone software is years ahead of its closest rivals.

Gábor Török said...


You can install "apps", although I have some doubts as to the usefulness of these programs, you know. It's definitely not applications that make an open phone really powerful.

As to 3rd party apps on other phones, I don't know why you think there're no useful apps out there? I don't say there couldn't be more, but there definitely are very useful apps that make users very productive. Just look around and see!

Finally, I still can't see why iPhone and the platform would be much better than any other smartphone OS. Is it the GUI? Is it the firmware update system or mechanism? I don't believe that any of these (or both) makes an operating system superior to others. And as long as Apple don't come out with really competitive phones I don't think it's even worth comparing iPhone sw to others. Even if Steve Jobs says so.

Anonymous said...

Giver me a break. Symbian OS is the worst piece of OS I have even seen. What a stupid clean up stack, two phase constructor, etc.

It clearly is a decent of british Psion OS. A relic from 80's.

OSX is so much more modern and easier to program. Android is too much much easier.

I really hate Symbian. The only reason it is still alive is that Nokia supports it. It wont't continue for a long.

You guys in Symbian have never realized that the most important feature of OS is that it must be easy to program software for it. Symbian learning curve is the steepest I have never seend. Its API is not even that rich that it is told. Its resource format is a big joke. Its localization/internationalization support is very bad.

I can not see any good thing is Symbian. I have never seen a cool Symbian application.

BTW. I have been programing for it for 5 year.

Best regards,

Gábor Török said...

Dear Jaska,

Since I disagree with basically everything you wrote in your comment, I just try to be brief: what you wrote qualifies you.


fero 52 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael said...


So what is your view on OS-X development vs. symbian today after 25.000 applications and soon 1billion downloads?

Is it wrong for Nokia and all the other copycats to also do app stores?

My prediction is that in under 2 years there will be only 3 mobile OS left: OS-X, Android and Windows Mobile, with a promised Windows 7 version comming real soon from MS.


Ger said...

At this point I must admit that I have never used OSX (consequently never programmed for it, either). But regardless of that still wondering how OSX and iPhone overrule the rest of the mobile platforms?

Surely you must have tried it by now! Check the apple SDK and iphone developer program, man its light years ahead. Just look at the amount of apps out there, sure there are both good and bad but its the ease that makes it happen.

Michael said...


Will you ever comment again on the status of Symbian and how much the iPhone has changed the smartphone catagory?

Gábor Török said...

@Michael: thanks for your interest. The situation has changed indeed by now and it's worth collecting the findings in a separate post. I will try to make it in the near future. Wish I had more time ... :-|

Michael said...


Looking forward to reading.
2010 looks for Nokia to be a transition year where they will release 1-2 Symbian smart phones as they will reposition Symbian for the mid-tier phones and Maemo for smart phones. You know that can do chat and email as the vice president stated is the secret weapon!?

Apples can this year make the iPhone GS into a mid-tier phone as its components will be real cheap now. So by making it a bit smaller physically, with same screen and resolution and only 4-8GB it will be very very bad for its competitors at $349 unlocked.
This will make room for a iPhone Pro that can be a bit bigger and much more open for business. Apple has all the options to open for pro API's and also a pro app store that business can deploy its own private apps thru.
From the rumors of 7'' and 10'' devices can be for the much'ed talked about table and a 7'' gaming iPod touch.

kpbotbot said...

my honest opinion: the steep learning curve helps filter out garbage apps from getting completed at all. what's left from the "filtering process"? the good ones. there are only a few, but most of those are the best of the best software.

plus, the way 3rd party apps are supported on symbian OS is AWESOME. multitasking seems to be my most favorite feature. as soon as i get my hands on my own 5530 (s60v5), i plan to install a bittorrent client and skyfire. all to do everything that my laptop can do. can the iphone do that? NO. even if 3rd party developers get to make a torrent client for the iphone, i bet it wont be as awesome as it was expected. they wont be able to RUN it from the background.

Gábor Török said...

Well, the latest announcement from Apple was that they would support multitasking from the next version of iPhone OS onwards. Which will not work on older models, though.

Thanks for your feedback!

jordan said...

Hi all,

I just want to say something since I started to develop for Symbian and iPhone. First Symbian is open and it has a major advantage in multitasking, on the other hand Symbian doesn't have some free IDE (QT is too much expensive for developing commercial applications) similar to iPhone's X Code, Carbide is far away from X Code.

Objective C is quite good as Java, C++ or any other similar, believe me. It's not question about language it's question of other tools used by X Code for developing some application.

The only not signed applications for Symbian are WRT (widgets) all other applications, J2ME, native Symbian should be signed. There are several ways to sign it but they have to be signed.

We can discuss as much as we can but there is only one thing at the end. How much APP Store brings money to developers and how much OVI brings money?

I hope somebody from Nokia will read this.

If you want success for OVI please give us QT for Symbian for free.

Once when you jump into X Code you will say to yourself why I'm still hanging with Carbide (Eclipse + plug in).

Gábor Török said...

But Qt for Symbian IS free. As well as Carbide.C++ IDE. The move to open source for Symbian wouldn't even tolerate commercial sw.

Michael said...

Remember my post from marts 2009:

My prediction is that in under 2 years there will be
only 3 mobile OS left: OS-X, Android and Windows
Mobile, with a promised Windows 7 version comming
real soon from MS.

so there you have it. Since Nokia will be in so big turmoil that the first phones with WP7 will be ready in 1 year time. 1 Year means 80mil. iPhone, 50mil iPad touch and 50mil, iPads and 200-250mil Android. So what market will there be for Nokia?

MS with Balmer is killing themself like they did with their Play For Sure when they launched Zune a platform that never did much and is now killed by WP7. MS and Nokia are bow two incompitant and irrelevant companise. They are big and will take a long time to die if ever. They however both have lost the next computer era.

Nokia lost it when they did not buy palm a year ago. HP is as clueless anouncing WebOS 3 devices just before their webos 2 devices hit the stores. Sad.