The biggest losers in Admob’s latest survey of smartphone usage, released on Thursday, were Symbian operating system phones, with their share falling from 43 per cent to 18 per cent over the past year as iPhone and Android traffic boomed.
But don’t write off Symbian just yet. Lee Williams, executive director of the Symbian Foundation, gave a glimpse of two forthcoming revamps that could revive its fortunes when he visited us en route to the CTIA show in Las Vegas.
The Admob survey results suggest the backwardness of current Symbian OS smartphones, principally Nokia handsets, when it comes to web surfing and the use of online “Apps”, compared to Apple and Android devices.
Admob’s worldwide mobile advertising network can detect which device is requesting ads as users browse web pages and use apps. It says the strong growth of iPhone and Android traffic over the past year was fuelled by heavy application usage. The iPhone’s share of requests in February increased to 50 per cent from 33 per cent a year earlier, Android devices rose to 24 per cent from just 2 per cent as the number of models increased markedly.
Symbian is addressing the usability and web browsing experience of its operating system with its Symbian ^3 and ^4 versions, due in the coming months, while improving the availability of apps, Mr Williams told me.
In a major initiative, Symbian ^3 was released as an open source OS in February and is expected to begin appearing on Nokia, Fujitsu, Sony Ericsson handsets and phones from Taiwanese and Chinese manufacturers shortly.
Mr Williams expects announcements of handsets over the next month or two. Symbian ^4 phones should appear in the first quarter of next year.
He demonstrated features such as multi-touch, multi-tasking, 3D support, improved shading and transparency on the screen interface, a social address book linked to Facebook and Twitter and moveable and customisable web-based widgets.
Symbian ^3 would be viewed as the OS catching up with the competition, he predicted, but Symbian ^4, with more than 400 extra features, would put it ahead.
“Symbian ^4 [pictured] is a leapfrog opportunity – there will be a few things in there that people will be holding [a handset] next to the iPhone and, from a usability perspective, saying – Wow, I think I like that a little better.”
Symbian is not competing with the Apple App Store or Android Market head on, but has instead introduced the Horizon publishing programme. This allows developers to check their applications in to this master index of Symbian apps, enabling them to show up in multiple stores such as Nokia’s Ovi, those of Vodafone and Orange or third-parties’ such as Getjar and Handango.
Mr Williams says Symbian does not take a cut of sales and some individual developers have made six-figure sums already. He pointed to the success of the Gravity Twitter client and Mobbler player for Last.FM radio, although the choice is relatively limited at fewer than 10,000 apps.
Symbian still claims a more than 50 per cent market share of operating systems and is growing at 20 per cent a year, said Mr Williams.
“We haven’t really slowed down, we were leading the charge. But, with the new entrants, the growth rate in this [smartphone] segment of the market has surpassed our growth rate.
“We have shipped over 350m units and it will be at a billion units in the next year and a half.”