A smartphone democracy?

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How do you define a smartphone? According to estimates from analyst Canalys, around 40 million smartphones were shipped in Q3, 2008, of which almost half ran off a Symbian operating system (OS).

But aren’t these statistics misleading? Symbian’s Series 60 (S60) platform, for instance, appears in all kinds of mass-market models that most archetypal smartphone users would find limited.

Surely, a Symbian OS does not necessarily equate to ‘smartness’.

The discrepancy arises because Symbian (and Canalys) defines smartphones by their potential to be ‘clever’, whether that potential is realised or not.

The S60 OS enables enough user meddling in theory for it to qualify.

And, Symbian might anyway respond to claims about skewed statistics and smartphone eligibility by suggesting upstart manufacturer Apple, running a proprietary OS, should be discounted on the same terms, since its iPhone handsets are consumer icons, not favoured by besuited executives high on push email either.

Symbian’s vision is that its forthcoming Symbian Foundation OS will explode all such definitions anyway; that it will make mass market and low-end phones demonstrably ‘clever’, to the point ‘smartphone’ no longer works as useful shorthand for elite devices.

In effect, all-new Symbian Foundation intends to democratise customisable mobile phones for the masses in a way it claims rivals will not.

Not too soon either, because according to Canalys estimates Symbian is shedding market share – 12.4 per cent year-on-year, to the likes of Apple, RIM, Microsoft, Linux and Google.

Its reckoned monopoly on smartphones is being seriously challenged for the first time by competing open-source platforms.

Full article in Mobile News issue 434 (March 9, 2009).

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