Nokia says its Linux-based Maemo operating system is the future of its high-end smartphones, ending hope for Symbian OS to reign supreme. The change emphasizes how far behind the world's largest handset maker has become.
Symbian is today the world's most successful smartphone OS, accounting for 50 percent of global sales. Most of these handsets do not, however, compare favorably to Android-based or iPhone devices.
Gartner recently estimated that Symbian will remain the world's best-selling smartphone OS in 2012, with Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone following, in that order.
The blog reports there is no current plan to roust Symbian from Nokia's video-focused X-series or enterprise-focused E-series handsets. In fact, the company plans development tools capable of supporting both operating systems.
For more than a decade, Symbian has been Nokia's operating system of choice. Yet, it took computer companies--Apple, Google, and to a limited extent Microsoft--to create the high-end smartphones customers want to purchase.
That is an incredible put-down for Nokia, which has been investing in operating systems and tools for many years, yet never seemed to figure out what customers want (that isn't a lowest-price handset).
Nokia still does not know, and its decision to focus on Maemo is proof. Rather than do the sensible thing, which would be accept reality and go with Android as its high-end OS, Nokia will be heading out alone again, naturally. (Pun noted).
The primary advantage of Maemo, from what I can tell, is Nokia's hope to still develop a complex ecosystem around an operating system it controls. While a noble ambition, at least from shareholders' perspective, there is no reason at all to believe Nokia can pull it off.
After all, the company has been a leader, perhaps the leader, in handsets over the last decade, but has never been able to create high-end products that people want to purchase.
The new Maemo-powered N900 seems to be a fine handset, but as customers become more interested in a rich applications catalog and downloadable media, Nokia is left behind.
Do not think this Maemo announcement means the end of Symbian, for apparently it is not. Reports are that the legacy operating system will continue to power Nokia's mass-market phones for the foreseeable future.
However, as smartphones increase their market presence (and become less expensive) it is hard not to see Nokia's announcement as the beginning of the end of the Symbian era.
P.S. Watch John C. Dvorak, Rob Enderle, and me on CrankyGeeks today at 1 p.m. U.S. Pacific Time.