This is a blog about Symbian: What it is, why you should care, and every little thing about how to play there as a developer. First, a confession. I love small systems programming. Crazy about it. Stunned that I actually get paid to do this. So there you have it. We all have our quirks, I suppose. Enough about me. Let’s talk Symbian.
Symbinia, Chapter 0
This is a blog about Symbian: What it is, why you should care, and every little thing about how to play there as a developer. I’ll start with a small confession. I love embedded systems programming. Crazy about it. Been at it for an embarrassingly long time. I recall many occasions when, in the course of a typical day at work, I took a few moments out to be stunned by the fact that I actually get paid to do this. So there you have it. We all have our quirks, I suppose. Enough about me. Let’s talk about Symbian programming.
The 3Ws:Why Symbian, Why You, Why Now
As much fun as it is down-linking satellites and running remote sensing instrumentation and making microwaves and set top boxes smarter than an honor roll student, today’s obvious playground for any embedded systems developer is ( you guessed it) the mobile device. And if you have any thoughts about targeting this new landscape of computing, you should definitely investigate Symbian: the OS, the native C++ language and dev tools, and the Symbian Signing process for getting software to market. Here’s why:
When next you reach into your satchel and extricate your insistently ringing smartphone, there is better than a seven out of ten chance that you’ll have something Symbian in your hand. Even the most conservative estimates give Symbian OS a 70% market share of smartphones and PDAs worldwide. At the risk of belaboring the math, this is more than twice the combined share of every other competitor in the space. The world’s leading phone producer, Nokia, builds the vast majority of its devices on the Symbian OS. Motorola, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi, Sharp and Samsung ship large numbers of Symbian 3G smartphones. Over 250 mobile carriers worldwide support Symbian phones. So, in a nutshell, here’s how the worldwide mobile device market shakes out:
• Symbian running on Nokia.
• Or Symbian running on somebody else.
• And, woops, the rest.
Symbian evolved in response to a unique confluence of technical, economic and social influences, several of which aren’t immediately apparent, viewed from a North American perspective. Understand these things and you’ll see why Symbian targeting is the prime opportunity for small device application software developers.
Symbian is an open standard, and the preferred Symbian development tools are open source. What’s to explain about this?
Symbian APIs and SDKs anticipate device evolution. Founded in 1998, Symbian is wholly owned by shareholders Ericsson (15.6%), Nokia (47.9%), Panasonic (10.5%), Samsung (4.5%), Siemens (8.4%) and Sony Ericsson (13.1%). Symbian OS moves forward based on the device development plans of these and others of its customers. Fully implemented, leading edge features are supported by Symbian SDKs first, and consistently, across most manufacturers’ devices.
Symbian builds bridges connecting worldwide telephony market “islands”. Due to the differing needs and motivations of consumers worldwide, the history of mobile telephony has frequently been one of isolated markets and incompatible technologies. The ubiquity and consistency of the Symbian platform creates a single market and economies of scale necessary to profitable software publishing for mobile devices.
What’s Next on Symbinia
Hands-on time! Next we explore the process of downloading and setting up Symbian tools and getting started with application development. Also, I’ll post the text of an interview with Dr. Bruce Carney, Symbian’s Director of Developer Programs and Services.
Wow, great to hear you're so enthusiastic about Symbian, it almost sounds like a sales pitch. :)
My experiences with Symbian haven't been very positive so I hope your hands-on articles will show me how to build Symbian applications the easy way (without tons of glued-together scripts and voodoo signing processes). If they can I might change my opinion that Symbian is 'dead in the water' and will soon be overshadowed by Windows Mobile (and who knows: Android).
PS: I would recheck the 70% you mention, I find that number rather high.
>70% market share Unfortunately not. Symbian has maybe 70% share of the smartphone market, but most analysts put that at between 10-15% of the overall mobile phone market. Of the expected 1 billion mobile phones sold in 2007, perhaps 80-90 million of those (8-9%) will be Symbian OS devices.
>The world’s leading phone producer, Nokia, builds the vast majority of its devices on the Symbian OS It's not the vast majority unfortunately, I doubt it's even a majority. It is still an awful lot of handsets though!
70% of the smartphone market...which in turn is only 5% of the total phonemarket. So Symbian's share is 3.5%. And it doesn't look as if this will grow fast anytime soon.
It's good for softwaredevelopers focussing on mobile terminals to realize the puny marketshare of smartphones. I've seen too many 'great ideas' of a smartphone application 'for all of us' while 'almost all of us' are using non-smartphones.
Berco & Shonko -Mea culpa. We are talking about smartphones here, not all cell phones. I am editing the content of my post to reflect that. Thanks for the correction. Re market share: When I look at a potential platform target, I start by asking two questions: • Is there a there there? • And if so, how long will it be there? In terms of consumer driven adoption of smartphone technology, for a considerable period of time I’ve shared in your skepticism. (A lot of this grew out of my experience with Windows CE, about which I wrote a book and provided content to codeguru.com for a few years. ) However, about six months ago I came away from a conversation with an old friend who works for one of the big three handset manufacturers convinced that it was time to rethink my position. Here’s why: First, Smartphone adoption was early and aggressive in Europe and Asia where there are fewer wireline networks and where wireline phones were historically costly. For a significant fraction of consumers in these regions, chances are good that a mobile device is as close as they will ever come to owning a PC. This is a sophisticated, committed audience. It’s big, it’s deep and it’s not going away. Second, I think with Symbian software developers are on the receiving end of a real break in terms of cross platform portability, unintentional though it may be. Here’s what I mean by this. If you’ve been in this field for a while, undoubtedly you’ve seen or possibly been the victim of corporate strategies which trap consumers and developers in a particular vendor’s product line or technology. No question that in a “share stealing” game, corralling developers is a key play. While there is a vicious share stealing game in progress for mobile services, neither handset manufacturers nor carriers can afford to let it play out at the device level. Mobile device margins are lean. Adding even small percentages to Bill of Material cost for a device can make it uncompetitive in its niche. Because established smartphone markets are currently consumer driven, style, trendiness and upscale features matter. Smartphone devices evolve quickly, like fashion. The big manufacturers use Symbian because they can advance, differentiate and segment their devices quickly, minimizing risk to production schedules and costs. Third, (and this is definitely a speculation, so I’m interested in your views here) sometime soon enterprise has to ask “Why are we buying all these notebook computers?” On this last point, I will allow cynicism. James Treybig, founder of Tandem Computer (Big deal back in the early days of Silicon Valley) famously said “You can’t be an entrepreneur by being two years ahead of your time. You have to be six months ahead of your time.” Best Regards, NN
Stefan- There is no sponsorship of any kind related to this blog. As I mentioned, I just do this because I like to. And you're right: Symbian programming is not for everyone. Thanks for reading all the way through the post, though. Android IS interesting. Also, for a particular type of content, Adobe's FlashLite makes me say "oooh" and "aahh".