Just recently Apple has revealed their 4th generation of iPhone that comes with iPhone OS 4 which is now dubbed as iOS4. Google, another new player in the smartphone business on the other hand, is now working on the upcoming Andoid OS 2.2 “Froyo” which is due to be officially released anytime later this year. Qualcomm, the name behind the 1GHz Snapdragon CPU that powers devices like Google’s very own smartphone Nexus One, also now has their own smartphone platform called Brew MP. Intel also came up with the new Atom CPU made specific for smartphones, signifying their initial step into the business as well. Not to mention, Motorola that used to be one of Apple’s closest partners now goes the Android way by announcing a 2GHz processing power smartphone. The good old Palm also becoming stronger day bay day with their Web OS powered devices, signifying that they’re not dead yet.
We all have known business phones has always been dominated by Research In Motion (RIM) with their Blackberry handsets. However, that’s all about them, RIM is always about business phone and not personal phone. The first ‘real’ phone maker that I ever witnessed to enter the business phone field is Nokia, with their Communicator and E series. They managed to steal serious business from it but RIM is always ahead of them. Luckily they’e always backed-up by their personal phone business.
Since the recent years, Nokia has been venturing into smartphone business as well. Regardless whether the decision was made after they witnessed the success of the iPhone, the phone business of today is all about smartphone. In the past business phone and personal phone is a separate thing. When PDA was still a trend, it’s not unusual to see a businessman carrying a normal phone for contact purposess while the PDA serves as a business device on the go. Then come the smartphone. The earlier generation of smartphone marks a marriage between a cellphone and a PDA. By that time cellphone has been divided into 3 categories ie. smartphone, personal phone and business phone. Yes, business phone still exists today as the demand for it is still as strong as ever. Business cater unique and specific needs. It’s not necessarily means that smartphone doesn’t love businessman but usually businessman doesn’t need much of the bells and whistles on smartphone. But why do we need a smartphone anyway. Because today’s generation is not simply a marriage between cellphone and PDA anymore, it’s a bridge between business phone and personal phone.
Back to the Nokia story, sometime around earlier last year they launched their first consumer touchscreen smartphone, the XpressMusic 5800 a.k.a. “The Tube”. It may not their first touchscreen phone but it’s their first Symbian OS device to have that feature. It was quite a steal, especially after people had been anticipating it since they saw it in Britney Spears music video and the Batman movie. AS with many new products, it came with many notable flaws too. Once anybody who have experiences with iPhone would notice is the resistive touchscreen, as opposed to the iPhone’s capacitive touchscreen. It may not be a crucial feature but Nokia seems to have forgot that people were expecting multi-touch interface since Nokia has a strong reputation in mobile gaming, hence the N-GAGE service. A real gamer knows that a real game requires multi-touch controls, and Nokia should understand too that as an entertainment phone, The Tube should have extensive gaming features.
The laggy menu navigation also haunted The Tube. It is as if there’s a software between the touchscreen and the visual interface that translates touches, taps, swipes and gestures into instructions. It seems like Symbian OS in the device have no native support for touch interface and might have required special software to enable that, thus resulting the lags. Also the default Symbian OS interface is not ready for touchscreen operation just yet, despite is was optimized for single-handed operation. Well, with the advent of touchscreen technology on cellphone, the single-handed operation might have become the thing of the past.
However there are good points too for Symbian OS to be the OS of choice in smartphone. Symbian OS has always been supporting multitasking. Yes, you can listen to mp3 on your smartphone while browsing the internet at the same time, and you can even do this even on much older models that are released 5 years ago. Not only that Symbian OS is also extremely good as multitasking, where it clears the memory immediately after you terminate an application, leaving the the phone ready for you to load another apps. This also means lower memory error when compared to Windows Mobile and iPhone OS. Applications for Symbian OS also relatively easy to develop because the system is functioning as a group of services, similar to what we may find in POSIX-modeled OS. Also Nokia doesn’t restrict developers from marketing their own software, unlike the iPhone where developers have too place their apps in the App Store while forced to give a portion of their revenue to Apple by doing so. Nokia and Symbian OS is more of an open platform than most other phone makers (except for Android of course).
Today Symbian OS is open to all developers since it’s now completely open source. Seems like a good decision for Nokia to compete with another open source mobile platform, the mighty Google Android OS. So far we can’t see any significant changes resulting from that moves except that newer Symbian OS devices are having much lower price that they were. Also the UI seems to have been tweaked a bit to be more touchscreen friendly (as can be seen on the upcoming N8 pictured above). We also hear less complain about laggy many navigation too. Perhaps Symbian OS now have native touchscreen operation too. Knowing Nokia’s reputation in phone making, we hope to see more and more developers joining the league. We might also see lots of improvements in future Nokia releases as well as more price drops too.
I admit that I am a Nokia fanboy and I’m always siding with them regardless how bad their devices are in terms of performance and behavior. However this does not prevent me from criticizing them all the time. I remember when Symbian OS was still closed source (that was even before iPhone), they did open themselves for some sort of public submission for GUI design for future Symbian OS releases. On that time I saw quite a number of awesome submission too, but now it may not be necessary anymore. Anyway I wonder if it is still available for submission. If it is I think I’d like to submit mine too.