It was barely four months ago when we had our hands-on with Symbian Anna, the first of many updates to the Symbian^3 operating system (OS). Currently, there are only two handsets, the Nokia E6 and the Nokia X7, that run Symbian Anna out of the box. The other Nokia handsets (N8, E7, C7 and C6-01) will be getting over-the-air (OTA) updates to Symbian Anna in the coming weeks. While Symbian Anna features some changes such as a better touch-optimized user interface and a faster web browser, it is not the major overhaul of Symbian^3 that many expected it to be.
Earlier on, we reported a leaked video of a Nokia N8 running on Symbian Belle. True to what we've been hearing on the internet grapevine, Nokia officially announced its next Symbian update on 24th August at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Dubbed as Symbian Belle, we had some hands-on time with the updated Symbian^3 OS, and spotted its upcoming Symbian Belle phones, Nokia 701, Nokia 700 and Nokia 600. Here's our initial impressions of Symbian Belle and a hands-on with the three new Symbian Belle phones.
With Symbian Belle, Nokia has finally caught up with its competitors in terms of the user interface and features. It is a much-need boost to the Symbian^3 OS in an increasingly competitive environment which sees a strong emphasis on software. Symbian Belle brings along six new features which are six home screens, a new pull-down notification bar, a menu bar at the bottom of the screen, interactive live widgets and near-field communication (NFC) support.
Overall, the user experience of Symbian Belle was a positive one. We liked the notification drop-down bar which mimics that of Google Android. The addition of interactive live widgets modernized the otherwise dated Symbian^3 OS. Interface transitions were smooth largely due to the 1GHz processor. Compared to the 680MHz processor in the E6 and X7 when Symbian Anna debuted, the new Symbian^3 OS update is a step in the right direction for Nokia.
During the event, we had the opportunity to have an interview session with Illari Nurimi, Vice President, Product Marketing Smart Devices, and Mark Selby, Vice President, Industry Collaboration. We prepared two key questions for the interview regarding the future of Symbian OS.
When asked about the direction of the Symbian OS in the near future with Windows Phone 7 Mango devices expected to arrive by end of 2011, Illari commented that Nokia remains committed to the Symbian OS as it is important for the company in the coming quarters and years ahead. Nokia stands firmly in its belief that consumers should be given more choices as different people have different needs when purchasing a phone. As such, be expected to see Nokia releasing more Symbian devices in the future. Mark reiterated the same point by stating that Nokia has been delivering multiple OSes for years (S40, S60, MeeGo) and is still comfortable with the concept of having different OSes in the market at the same time.
This led to our next question, which is about the possibility that Nokia will face fragmentation within the Symbian OS. This is against the backdrop of current Symbian devices getting the update to Symbian Anna and Nokia unveiling Symbian Belle today. Illari responded by saying that Symbian devices will get constant updates to the latest OSes as long as their hardware allow and their test trials permit. As of now, they are conducting trials of Symbian Belle on current Symbian devices such as the E6 to determine if an optimal user experience could be offered. If everything goes smoothly, we can expect the Symbian Belle update to arrive before the end of the year.