Consortium Has Let Symbian Slide

eWEEK Product Update: Groups has focused on bells and whistles at the expense of OS development.

Recently Nokia has been talking about the mobile operating system developed and marketed by Symbian, a consortium of mobile device makers of which Nokia is a member.

Nokias Symbian-powered 9290 Communicator is set to ship in early 2002, and the mobile phone firm is touting an upcoming set of development tools for Symbian.

Its nice to see some movement in the Symbian camp, but I wonder whether its too little, too late.

When Symbian was founded in 1998, its OS seemed poised to become a boss player in the mobile space. Symbians founders, Ericsson, Nokia, Matsushita, Motorola and Psion, stood astride the mobile world like giants. Whats more, the OS that would be called Symbian had already proven itself on Psions excellent handheld devices.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the member firms much preferred talking about Symbians flagship product to building products that actually ran it.

Psion has gotten out of the consumer handheld business, Ericsson seems to have lost interest in Symbian after shipping a single smartphone, and Nokia and Motorola each wasted time on mobile phone joint ventures with Palm that were eventually canned.

It occurs to me that mobile phone makers have been paying far too much attention to things such as MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), the successor to SMS (Short Messaging Service) that—you guessed it—allows you to send SMS-type messages with pictures attached.

Thats right. Once we can receive snapshots of Kobe Bryant along with our Lakers scores, well truly have entered The Future.

SMS has been a smash hit because its a simple and immediate means of communication.

Technologies such as MMS and downloadable ring tones may be pleasant adjuncts to current phone functions, but its frustrating to see the ardor with which Symbians member firms pursue these sorts of bells and whistles while their very good—and useful—OS continues to languish.

E-mail eWEEK Labs Technical Analyst Jason Brooks