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Why People Love(d) Symbian

By Adam Z. Lein May 23, 2012, 9:28 pm

You may have noticed recently that we've been exploring different reasons as to why people love specific smartphone operating systems such a Windows Phone, iOS, Android, and Palm's Web OS. So this time we're going to look at Symbian. Symbian's an interesting beast. For a long time it was the most popular smartphone operating system in the world. Symbian's market share surpassed everyone else up until recently. There are still plenty of Nokia fans who swear by Symbian even though Nokia has decided to move on to the more modern Windows Phone OS. Why was Symbian so popular during its hayday?

The first reason is probably because Symbian was created as part of a software alliance between a number of mobile phone manufacturers around the turn of the century. Popular mobile phone manufacturers of the time such as Nokia, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson banded together in order to create a smartphone operating system that was not owned by Microsoft so that they could avoid the monopolistic practices that Microsoft was known for in the 1990s. Symbian was based on Psion's EPOC operating system and when paired with Nokia's excellent hardware production and brand recognition quickly became successful.


OEMs loved it since they could customize it for their own brands. Sony Ericsson had their own flavor of Symbian. Siemens and Motorola had their own flavors. Nokia had a couple flavors. And everyone loved selling Symbian phones because they weren't tied to a single software company like all of the PCs at the time were.

Of course Symbian was a very capable operating system as well. Some of the first and most powerful smartphones used Symbian. The Nokia Communicator was one of the most famous. Another was the N95 which featured a 5 megapixel camera that far surpassed any other camera phone's quality at the time. There was a lot to like about the N95 actually. It had great build quality in addition to a unique dual sliding mechanism that revealed a numeric keypad on one end and some media playback buttons on the other. It also supported a front facing camera for video calls as well as TV-output and an accelerometer way back in 2007. Nokia put a lot of their most innovative features into their Symbian phones and that's why so many people loved them.

Another thing that's great about Symbian is the fact that the software tends to be rock solid in the stability department. Other smartphones back in the 2003-2007 era with similar flexibility and capabilities of the Symbian OS often required custom ROMs, plenty of tweaking, and compromises with installed apps in order to get something somewhat reliable.

Symbian spent a little while as an open source operating system as well, which was thought to keep its reign as top smartphone dog a little longer once Android and iOS showed up on the scene. That didn't play out so well, but Symbian was still flexible and powerful enough to evolve into the current version called Belle which mimicks many of the Android user interface conventions that people know so well these days. Most consumers probably won't be able to tell the difference between a Nokia Belle phone and an Android phone. It just seems like another flavor of Android.

Regardless of all the great things Symbian has brought us along the way, it would seem its life as the king of smartphone operating systems has come to an end. What were your favorite things about Symbian if you were one of the many Symbian users of the passed decade or so?


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