As Android Soars, Nokia Remains Focused on Symbian and MeeGo

Nokia is promoting MeeGo at developer conferences this week, reaffirming its belief in the OS, as well as in Symbian, despite its rivals betting big time on Android.

Nokia is promoting its MeeGo operating system at developer conferences in Europe this week, the Wall Street Journal reports, following the decision of new Nokia CEO Stephen Elop to pursue the Symbian and MeeGo operating systems despite the steadily rising popularity of Google's Android.

While Nokia has yet to release a handset running MeeGo-the result of Nokia combining its Maemo with Intel's Moblin-it has long promoted Symbian, the leading--though slipping--mobile OS, even as others have abandoned it. During the third quarter, Symbian's global market share fell to 37 percent, from 45 percent a year earlier, according to Gartner, while Android's market share over the same period jumped from just 4 percent in third quarter of 2009 to a whopping 26 percent, sending it leap-frogging over industry leaders Apple and Research In Motion into second position behind Symbian.

Not so surprisingly, then, Sony Ericsson and Samsung-each of which has been filling out its portfolio with Android-running smartphones-announced that they will stop supporting Symbian. Even the Symbian Foundation, in a Nov. 8 statement, took a step back from the platform, announcing that it will transition to acting only as a licensing operation. Nokia responded with a statement, saying it will continue to invest resources in the OS.

"The platform powers hundreds of millions of smartphones-including our own-and we expect to deliver ongoing support and innovation benefitting the Symbian ecosystem in the future," Jo Harlow, Nokia's senior vice president of smartphones, said in the statement.

In a rare show of support, Fujitsu and Sharp the following day unveiled 11 new smartphones running the OS, Reuters reported.

As Nokia's overall handset market share has also dropped-to 28.2 percent in the recent quarter, from 36.7 percent a year earlier-it has introduced a number of high-end smartphones running Symbian 3 that are central to its strategy for getting back on top.

By going its own way, instead of choosing to adopt Android, as some analysts have suggested, Nokia executives believe they have a better chance at differentiating the brand, particularly as the stakes rise in the growing smartphone market.

"Frankly, some of these alternatives in the market are not necessarily providing a lot of opportunity for innovation, and that is what we hear from people who are using those platforms at the moment," Alberto Torres, Nokia's executive vice president for MeeGo computers, told the Journal, referring to competing handset makers that have adopted Android.

The Journal adds that Nokia's decision to support MeeGo over Android is also due to its ability to support additional products such as tablets, televisions and even in-car systems-a seemingly popular next step for mobile operating systems. (A version of QNX, the software behind RIM's PlayBook tablet, is currently in the dashboards of millions of vehicles.)

Analyst Jack Gold, with J. Gold & Associates, said that in order to compete with Android and Apple, Nokia needs to capture more developers to create apps for its Ovi Store. In moving to the Qt development platform, which is said to be easier to develop on than Symbian, Nokia is looking to do exactly this. Whether Nokia can get developers to move to Qt, says Gold, remains to be seen.

"Nokia must aggressively court them if it wants to stand a chance," Gold wrote in a Nov. 4 report. "The way to do that is to make Qt support development for Android and WP7 as well as Symbian and MeeGo, thus centralizing development to one tool that can deploy to many platforms. However, Nokia must do this quickly if it wants to have any major impact."