Moving to Symbian S60: One Year Later

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A bit more than a year ago, December 2007 to be more precise, I decided to move away from the very familiar surroundings of Palm devices to another platform. Being familiar with Windows Mobile, and there not being an iPhone or Android model that enticed me, I moved to Nokia and the Symbian S60 platform.

And while I can say that it has been a pretty good time. I’ve had some hiccups and some mental jumps along the way that give me pause about doing another move like this in the near future — unless something is better prepared for my kind of usage.

The Joys
I would be lying if I didn’t say I was very happy overall with Nokia phones and the Symbian platform. Speaking just about the devices, I’ve nothing but good things to say: a solid amount of software to choose from, great battery life (except for that initial Nokia N95), and a reasonable amount of support in terms of firmware updates and new devices to keep the fervor strong.

Then there is that aspect of just having a device that does things differently. Yes, it’s not the simplicity of the Palm OS (I really do miss that part), but the capability in my hand from day-one with the Nokia N75 was just something to be explored and survived.

Since moving to the N95 North American Model (NAM), I’ve been even happier. One, because I’ve been able to use even more software, but also because this phone has enabled me to step further out on a limb in terms of seeing just how far mobile devices and services have penetrated modern culture.

I’ve learned about so many people globally who just do things differently, from mobile banking with SMS, to Mobile Web tracking and analytics, to just the psychology of mobile use. Not to say that I wouldn’t have learned some of the same lessons if I stayed with the Palm OS, but because I was learning a new platform, these new avenues of information and culture were there for the learning.

The Pains
All that being said, not everything has been great. Finding third-party software has been a challenge. Nokia’s Ovi Store will eventually help that, but everything from Nokia MOSH (now folded into the upcoming Ovi Store) to Nokia Download! (on devices but rarely with anything new; will also be folded into the Ovi Store) to retail software stores — there just isn’t a quick and easy way to find new software and get it.

Don’t get me started on the whole issue of signing and certificates for software. It’s smart in idea, but horrible in implementation.

Developers also have it bad in that there are just too many ways to develop for Symbian devices: native code, WRT (web run-time) widgets, Java, browser-apps, etc. There are just too many ways to get onto a device, and then the user interface hides what might be great.

The user experience: it’s powerful, but a pain in the butt… or the fingers. A today-like screen that cannot be modified. Settings for Wi-Fi in two areas which are not connected to one another. The constant asking for access points for every application which wants to connect to a wireless connection. 5-9 clicks just to add a calendar item. And disjointed software updating — which requires a Windows PC in older Nokia devices — that leaves many North American users without fixes to serious issues for all but the most popular of handsets.

It’s bad enough that sometimes I’ve wanted to just turn away. But then I remember, there really isn’t something as stable and capable as the Symbian OS (yet).

Lessons Learned
All this is why I can say more or less that the last year has been filled with a lot of lessons learned. Some about Nokia/Symbian, and some about mobility in general. Here are some of the more important ones that I’ve noticed:

Purchasing a high-end Nokia device from a carrier in the U.S. is impossible, and therefore so is insuring it easily. Check with your home or renter’s insurance whether they will or not before purchasing high-end models.

Firmware updates hit pretty soon after a device release — usually within a month or so after its on-sale date — so serious issues are usually addressed, but waiting isn’t a bad thing either.

Nokia’s Symbian devices do not always use the same software as Samsung and LG’s Symbian devices. Part of that is because Nokia signs apps for their devices only; part of that is because other makes just don’t make as much software.

Battery life is better with Nokia E-series devices; much better.

Patience is a good thing; moving from another platform is hard in and of itself, but the Symbian OS requires patience in terms of the user interface and when learning third-party software.

This platform is fun, but is in major transition; something like what Palm is going through with Palm OS 5 and webOS. What will come later will definitely be different, and might even be mainly of a Linux and Symbian flavor.

Nokia N97That all being said, I’m really happy with the move. And I’m looking forward to upgrading from my N95 to the Nokia N97 when it becomes available. For me, a large amount of internal space plus a Touchscreen and sliding keyboard can handle what I already do with my phone as a laptop/MP3 player/GPS/web server replacement and can take it further.

If you will, moving to the Symbian OS was a lot like finding out that there are more possibilities with mobile device and the mobile ecosystem in general. It touches every area of the world, and at the same time is still growing and changing.

Where to Go From Here
On the mobile side, I can say that I don’t follow many trends. From my use of a Mobile Web server to just the activity within the varying types of Nokia and Symbian devices (QWERTY, sliders, touchscreens), there’s a lot to play with. Add to that the Ovi Store and just living with yet another OS that is moving from a closed model to an open source one — times are pretty exciting.

Personally, I want to upgrade to either the Nokia N97 or a similar Internet Tablet. Most of my mobile use has been more on the mobile data side than anything else, and I see the N97 really facilitating that aspect of tech-use better than many other devices.

There is a bit of an uneasiness though. With Nokia, there’s this big machine of a company that is currently transforming into something different, and could at anytime just pull the rug out. I’d have to go back and do the homework of finding another device and platform. It’s not a major problem — seeing how I’ve just done it — but it’s something to think about.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased with this move. Sure was a scary one, and definitely had its points where I wanted to turn back to the Palm Treos and Palm OS that I was well used to. But this move was for the better, and opened me up to a world of connectivity that previously only looked interesting in the hands of another.




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