The real contest of 2010…

In my travels around various blog postings and articles related to Symbian, I recently came across this one on IntoMobile; Maemo, Symbian and Qt are facing internal strife; what was supposed to bind them is tearing them apart.

The article concerns a recent missive by my colleague Mark Wilcox on the Maemo.org forums regarding his concerns about what seems to be a divergence by the Maemo and Symbian camps in creating the UI layers for the next iterations of their respective OS’es. One comment in the IntoMobile article which struck me was the suggestion that:

What we’re seeing here is different parts of the organization struggle to prove that they’re right and the other one is wrong

Personally, I think this is a bit inaccurate since the Symbian Foundation doesn’t represent Nokia. Of course, they could be referring to the overall scenario but that’s not the impression I got. As I understand it, Marks point of view is that of any sane user or developer, and me as well! It’s that a unified UI would be good for everyone involved (expect it seems for those involved in creating UI frameworks).

As usual with any article about Symbian, the comments section easily slipped into demands that Nokia continue with Maemo only and just get rid of Symbian. One commentor posted:

As a long time Symbian user it was a breath of fresh air when I got my N900. To me the N900 and Maemo is 1000 miles ahead of what Symbian in its’ current 5th edition form has to offer.

Now, I think there’s a very good reason why Maemo 5 appears slicker, more well thought through and less of a rush job than S60 5th edition. It’s because it wasn’t a rush job. Maemo’s Hildon UI has been touch based since the beginning. For years it’s been a little side-project at Nokia, slowly working it’s way to maturity. Then the N900 gets released in ‘selected markets’. The N97 on the other hand (and Symbian in general) are the centrepiece of Nokia’s smartphone strategy. This brings with it hard deadlines, and the need to get the devices distributed worldwide.

S60 5th edition was a project to turn D-pad based UI into a touchscreen UI. That’s a big ask, but I’m not excusing Nokia. They just felt that they needed a touchscreen S60 device out soon in order to challenge Apple. It didn’t quite work out like they planned, I’m sure they would have preferred it if they could have created something really great in the time alloted, but they couldn’t quite do it.

The new challenge, and an easier one if you ask me, is to make the next iteration of the UI better. I think that Symbians other qualities do differentiate it from Maemo, in a good way. If the UI makeover is done properly than Symbian will remain a force to be reckoned with.

All the debate around which OS Nokia should use (as if they can’t use both) seem to pit Maemo 5 against S60 5th edition. This is not the contest (if you could call it that) which will take place. Rather it will be between Maemo 6 and the as yet unseen revamped Symbian UI.

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