S60 Platform Dying

I’ve had a bunch of S60 phones in the past, and my current day to day phone is an E61. I like the platform, I like the multitasking interface, recent phones I even like the design. But I’ve had to start moving away from S60 just because it isn’t a viable platform any more. While that probably sounds sensationalist, this is what I mean:

I’ve had three conversations with entrepreneurs over the last month where they’ve said their application works on BREW, Windows Mobile, Palm, and they even had a J2ME client that does some stuff if all else fails. My normal question is “No Symbian?” And they always say something like “We’re working on it, we just haven’t quite gotten the application to behave correctly yet” or “We still have a few things we’re trying to figure out to get it working”. And so far it hasn’t been because it was started last, it’s because their talented developers (who many times are just picking up mobile for the first time) just can not get applications working on Symbian.

And it’s really starting to show in terms of the applications available. I was bitching yesterday about Ruby already, and I tried out VNC for S60 yesterday and had a hard time with that as well (it installed, just didn’t really work). It used to be that I was constantly surprised by the stuff I could do with my S60: “Wow, there’s a bluetooth LAN bridge that works with Linux for the S60, that’s insane!” Now I get surprised more often by what I can’t do than what I can. Applications that I expect to work that for some reason won’t install, or have subtle bugs with my device and go months before they get fixed.

The environment as a whole is stagnating because the barrier to entry is so high, and new hurdles are being placed there all the time. Meanwhile it seems like Windows development and BREW development get easier and easier all the time. It’s just obviously bad news for the S60 platform long term, yet no one seems to really notice or care. Or when they do they explain it away by saying that mobile is hard so of course developing for it is hard. Nice try, but others are making it easier. Someone needs to wake up there and do something or they’re gonna end up under the bus. I can only hope that their lack of visible activity is due to a massive secret internal effort to get an S60 interface up and running on Linux instead of Symbian. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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5 Responses to S60 Platform Dying

  1. Rafe says:

    Interesting perspective Mike. I wonder if there is a US / Europe difference. I don’t think the general shortage of Symbian developers helps much. I can’t say I’ve heard this. I have heard more – we’re doing J2ME to cover S60.

    I think part of the reasons for the barriers to entry are the because Symbian is the only mobile platform to have gone truly mass market in numbers terms. Symbian didn’t want to errect barriers, but its licensees (or rather the licensees) customers did. I also think we will see more things done to help counter balance this for developers.

    In terms of stagnation – I think there’s more going on around S60 that there ever has been. The difference is that the ability to fiddle on a hobbyist level is not there quite so much.

  2. miker says:

    Hey Rafe, thanks for the comments. I’m not going to disagree at all, you certainly have a much better handle on the market overall than I do. I’ll just say that most of the activity that I’ve seen recently centers around open platforms, the more open generally the more activity. If I compare the developer community around the 770 to the developer community around S60 there’s vastly different stuff going on. Unfortunately the 770 is just a toy. Yet still it has a fantastic community. I think that if the same openness existed for a phone platform it would be explosive.

    It could be a US vs Rest of the World thing. Recently even the Nokia boosters in the US that I’ve found as a support group have started dropping off. We’re just not getting what we need over here. I think the most fantastic app for my phone is probably the Putty client. And that shouldn’t be. But whenever I try for something more, podcasting, or transcoding videos to download, or even feed reading offline, I rarely find something that really serves my needs.

  3. Mike,
    I have heard quite similar comments from companies willing to do Symbian. It is common that developers that are newly approaching Symbian (and I’m not saying simply the very first time) can’t make the application work as they want OR they are not able to access some low-level API’s and features.
    This is partly because Symbian wants to keep some API’s reserved and partly because it’s not so well documented or does not offer an SDK at the quality level of Windows.

    Nevertheless, I would say that if you want to develop a mass-market application for smartphones, Symbian is the preferred platform as it covers enterprise users (see E series), geeks and gadget-victims (see the N series) and a lof of people that buys them because they like them. I was VERY surprised right before Christmas, while walking around in Milan, hearing two girls saying they would buy a Symbian phone because it looked nice. My first thought that was it was big and heavy, but apparently they had a different opinion.

  4. Yes, the Symbian OS is a nightmare in Programming if you are not used to it. Yes, the Symbian OS Plattform ist the most powerful mobile plattform.
    Yes, our company can master it, because we are doing it since the very beginning in 1997 but I have alos to say that Symbian or Nokia or someone else has permanently increased the size of the hurdles you have to jump over . The result is that there are more and more projects which should support Symbian but it is simply too expensive to make that complex development and so the Symbian OS plattform is left out.
    This is the danger that I see in the long term for Symbian.

  5. Ravi says:

    Symbian is hard to learn. The coding in it is tedious and takes lot of time. The phone hardware has changed a lot and programming should reflect that. There are dozens of string types and huge numbers of constant types and so many things this and that. Simpler API and runtime for casual (not so into Symbian) will do wonders.

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