Fujitsu, Sharp Launch Symbian Smartphones, as Nokia Promises New Support

Sharp and Fujitsu are introducing 11 Symbian-running smartphones, as Nokia says it will support the OS, following backpedaling from the Symbian Foundation.

Nokia reaffirmed its support for the Symbian operating system, just as Sharp and Fujitsu have introduced new smartphones running the mobile platform-which remains the most popular worldwide, despite losing support to Google's Android OS, most recently from Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

Nokia plans to "continue to invest its resources in developing Symbian," it said in a Nov. 8 statement, following an announcement by the board of the Symbian Foundation, which said it plans to transition from its current operational activity to acting only as a licensing operation.

Nokia purchased Symbian in 2008, made the software open source and established the independent, nonprofit Symbian Foundation to foster development of handsets based on the OS.

"The future of Symbian as a platform does not depend on the existence of the foundation," Jo Harlow, senior vice president of smartphones at Nokia, said in the statement. "The changes announced by the foundation have no impact on Nokia's Symbian device roadmaps or shipping commitments. 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."

Nokia recently launched the Symbian 3-running N8 smartphone, its new flagship device, as well as the C7 and C6-01 smartphones, which helped it ship 26.5 million units during the third quarter-a significant jump from the 16.4 million it shipped during the same quarter a year earlier, IDC reported Nov. 4. Set to launch during the fourth quarter is the E7, another device likely to help Nokia sell what it's forecasting will be "more than 50 million" Symbian 3-based devices.

Help will also come from Fujitsu and Sharp, which "unveiled 11 new smartphone models running Symbian software," Reuters reported Nov. 9, calling it a "rare show of support for Nokia's waning software platform."

Research firm Canalys reported Nov. 1 that thanks to Nokia's support, Symbian is the leading smartphone OS in 37 of the 56 countries it tracks, though in Japan, the OS is held up by Fujitsu and Sharp.

The Symbian Foundation, the Canalys report added, "has been in a recent state of flux, with a streamlining of the workforce and the departure of its Executive Director, Lee Williams, along with the withdrawal of support from Samsung and Sony Ericsson. But it still has continued backing from the Japanese vendors and dedication from Nokia to its ongoing development."

Canalys analyst Pete Cunningham wrote that the N8 in particular will help to boost Nokia's holiday sales and outlook into 2010, "as Nokia aims to push Symbian devices further into the mid-tier of the market to attract mass-market volumes." Still, he pointed to MeeGo, the OS Nokia has collaborated on with Intel, as a key to helping the Finnish phone maker compete with Apple and Google.

"Nokia still lacks a truly high-end product to compete against the iPhone and leading Android devices," wrote Cunningham. "The market is moving quickly and Nokia urgently needs to deliver an exciting and genuinely differentiated, high-end flagship MeeGo device early next year to regain its reputation as an innovative technology leader, and to retain its leadership position in the market."