Thursday, June 24, 2010

Smartphones for 2010 : part 3 : S^3

Symbian is the ubiquitous mobile OS platform that runs on Nokia phones. Given the Finnish giant's huge market share, this makes it the worlds most widely used mobile OS today. According to Allaboutsymbian, devices running on Symbian include Sony Ericcson P Series, Nokia N and E Series smartphones and the Nokia Communicator.

Originally owned by  Symbian Ltd. and later acquired by Nokia, Symbian is today available as an open source software through the Symbian Foundation; the code was released in Feb 2010. This step was undertaken to interest developers to work on the platform.

S^3 (Symbian 3) will be the first entirely open source version released by the Symbian Foundation, and promises a significantly enhanced user experience over  the older S60 platform. To a large extent, it will have to catch up with competitive mobile platforms which have forged ahead, especially in touchscreen technology. Still, in  India where Nokia has regularly topped the Most Trusted Brands Survey, and most of us buy Nokia with our eyes shut, S^3 is likely to be the OS that most of us will have on our next smartphone.

The latest news from Symbian is that S^3 is 'functionally complete' meaning that it will go into beta testing to improve stability, fix bugs etc. The final release is expected in September 2010. Nokia N8 is the first device that has been announced on the S^3 platform, but we can expect launches by other handset manufacturers also. Incidentally, Nokia has announced that later NSeries phones will shift to MeeGo, a collaboration with Intel using a Linux based platform.

For an exhaustive review of the S^3 OS, read this excellent article by Eldar Murtazin at Mobile Review. Most of what I've written below is summarised from his review and all images are also from Mobile Review.

Here is the visualisation of the S^3 experience from Nokia Conversations:


And some of the key improvements are:
1. User Interface
With increased RAM and hardware acceleration, Nokia users should see a jump in speed compared to their previous smartphone experience; the OS will also support multi-tasking and running several apps simultaneously.It will also automatically switch from 3G to WLAN mode.

Touchscreen functionality will now include single click, flick scrolling and pinch and zoom. All of this makes navigation far easier. For instance, you just have to swipe the screen to jump from one screen to another. And you can also swipe the screen to copy and paste text into any other section of the device.

One cool feature is the context sensitive messaging which allows you to add any type of content into a message - the system figures out whether to send it as MMS, SMS or whatever message form.

You can also choose upto 3 different home screens/ views. The homescreens support multiple pages for widgets and you can flick through them



The interfaces for text, email and IM are more feature rich and bring the experience closer to typing on a real computer screen rather than on a phone


2) Enhanced Media Player
The re-worked Media player experience is closer to the iPhone supporting horizontal and vertical mode. 


3) Picture menu
Special transition effects have been added to pictures including fade and transitions on slide shows. There is a built in editor to crop, apply effects, and re-size images

4) Video
Exciting video features include the ability to HDMI and Dolby Digital Plus support meaning that you can plug the phone to a TV set (if it has a HDMI port) and watch 1080 p Video with 5.1 sound. A solid video editor is also included, which allows you to perform most of the editing functions you would use on your desktop

There is lots more, but Eldar's final conclusion is that at least in the current release, the S^3 OS mostly just manages to catch up with competition (Android and Apple) and does not offer anything substantially new. The flip side is that millions of Nokia users including myself, will get acquainted with an entirely new interface,and way of using our phones. And meanwhile, work has already started on Symbian 4.

I do hope that S^3 is made available on Nokia's budget smartphones including the excellent E Series.