Opinion: Kin’s demise a warning for Nokia

Symbian is just one of Nokia's two OSs

Symbian is just one of Nokia's two OSs

Microsoft’s attempt to juggle two mobile platforms – the Kin and Windows Mobile – failed this week with the merging of the former into the latter. The sooner Nokia realises it needs to do the same the better says Adam Maguire.

When Microsoft unveiled the Kin in April of this year a lot of people asked how it fit into the upcoming launch of Windows Mobile 7, the company’s flag-ship mobile operating system. It did not, said Microsoft, it stood alone as a new platform with a social media focus.

The folly of this was apparent from the get-go.

In an increasingly competitive space it is never wise to dilute the market further by competing with yourself. As apps become more central to a phone’s appeal creating two sets of standards and two separate platforms also damages any attempt at a company gaining a foothold in the space.

Finally, and most obviously, having two competing platforms makes it very hard for you to be truly supportive of one or the other; be it in resources, support or even marketing.

Sure enough, Microsoft’s bizarre experiment failed and yesterday we found that the Kin was to be killed, or rolled into the Windows Mobile brand at the very least. However Microsoft are not the only company that had the idea of a dual-OS strategy; Nokia is trying similar.

Symbian is the best-known Nokia OS. It has been used in one form or another on Nokia phones for many years now and was bought by the company in 2008, only to be spun into an open source, not-for-profit foundation.

It is fair to say that when you look at Symbian you see an uninspiring OS. Even in its latest iteration Symbian fails completely when compared to its main rivals of Android, iOS and even the so-far-under-used WebOS. It is clear that in the last 3-4 years – particularly since Nokia took ownership of the brand – the OS has fallen way behind the pack.

Even its most devoted supporters agree, as highlighted by the closure of fan site Symbian-Guru which has done so because of “Nokia’s consistently piss-poor hardware choices and Symbian’s lack of ability to even remotely compete in terms of features”.

Nokia’s other OS – and one that is far less known – is MeeGo. MeeGo has its origins in Maemo, the OS used most notably in the Nokia N900, which has since merged with Intel’s mobile platform attempts to create a totally new system.

According to the website MeeGo is more than just a mobile phone OS – it is also supposed to be for netbooks, in-car entertainment systems and other portable devices. Much like Apple has done with iOS and Google is doing with Android, this will be a cross-device system.

So far, it looks like it could be a good one too.

Yesterday, just as Microsoft were quietly smothering Kin with a pillow, MeeGo released a preview of its handset iteration. It is likely to appear on a commercially-released phone before the year is out.

On first impressions it seems to take a lot of what is available on Android and put its own spin on things, combining the Nokia Ovi Store for good measure. In other words, it is an operating system designed for smartphones and touchscreens, unlike Symbian.

Of course once it goes commercial Nokia are going to have a very hard time explaining why MeeGo is great without bashing Symbian and vice versa. The idea that each OS is suited to different uses is instantly dismiss-able too, due to MeeGo’s flexibility and the similiarities of the two (from their open source nature to the execution of their functionality, albeit somewhat differing.)

What Nokia will soon realise, just as Microsoft has, is that there is no logic in the dual OS approach – one will always find more favour with users and prove to be the one worth backing. The longer Nokia sits back and hopes both might succeed against the odds, the more money it wastes and handsets it cripples with under-achieving software.

If it has any sense Nokia will begin to sunset its support for Symbian very rapidly after MeeGo becomes a viable piece of phone software. Bar in the business market Symbian should cease to exist on new devices almost immediately, with even that market segment being transferred across fairly rapidly.

It may be hard to turn for Nokia to turn its back on the money already invested and there is sure to be a fear that such a change will alienate users. But when no-one else – not even the software’s biggest fans – can support what you are already doing any more it is clearly time for a dramatic change.

If Nokia is not bold enough to kill Symbian, Symbian will very likely kill Nokia.

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