Symbian Foundation talks up Symbian^3 and low-cost handsets

Symbian logoAt Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Symbian Foundation has lifted the curtain on Symbian^3, the next iteration of its mobile software platform. It brings a number of noteworthy improvements that will help make the operating system more competitive as its dominance is challenged by increasingly powerful rivals.

The new version will boost performance and deliver a fresh user experience with enhanced usability and a more modern interface design. Under the hood, it has better memory management and a more robust network stack that is said to make the operating system better-suited for Internet-centric devices than previous versions. Another significant addition is support for SMP, which will make it possible for the software to take advantage of the next-generation multicore ARM processors.

Hardware-accelerated graphics rendering is used pervasively throughout Symbian^3 to enable a richer and more responsive interface. The look and feel has been revamped with the aim of increasing aesthetic sophistication and minimizing the amount of effort that is required to navigate through the platform. Improved support for touchscreen interaction in Symbian^3 will facilitate smooth kinetic scrolling and support for multitouch gestures such as pinch-and-zoom. One of the key features of the interface update is a new homescreen that will display programmable widgets.

Developers will be able to build native software for Symbian^3 with Nokia's open source Qt 4.6 framework, but Qt has not yet completely taken over the user interface. Legacy Avkon applications will still be supported. According to the Symbian Foundation's roadmap, Qt will become the platform's dominant toolkit with the release of Symbian^4.

Making Qt available for Symbian^3 today will make it possible for developers build and deploy applications that will be forward-compatible with Symbian^4. Qt also reduces some of the challenges of Symbian application development. The Symbian developer wiki has some details about using Qt in Symbian^3.

One particularly nifty addition to the Symbian Qt stack is a new "smart" installer that works a bit like a conventional Linux package manager. Individual applications will specify what Qt libraries they need in order to run and then the smart installer will automatically download and install the necessary components.

Symbian^3 is expected to arrive on handsets in the second half of 2010. Ian Hutton, the chair of the Symbian Foundation's feature and roadmap council, commented on the current timeline in an entry on the official Symbian blog.

"So where is Symbian^3 now, on its journey towards handsets? We expect it to be feature complete on schedule this quarter, though as I write this it's not there yet," he wrote. "So when will the world see handsets? That's not down to me to announce of course, but rest assured that device manufacturers are already engaged. A rough rule of thumb is that the first handsets would normally be shipping somewhere between 4-8 months after functionally complete, so look out for announcements soon."

Symbian is now an open source operating system. The difficult process of liberating the platform began in 2008 and was finally completed earlier this month. The Symbian Foundation has been working aggressively to address the platform's many limitations.

Despite this effort, Symbian will still face major challenges. The newly-announced MeeGo offers many technical advantages and the benefit of more flexible Linux-based underpinnings. Android is making major inroads and has been tapped by a growing number of handset makers for their flagship products. As these alternatives take over the top tier of the smartphone market, the Symbian Foundation intends to retain its platform's relevance by forcefully targeting the budget smartphone market.

Symbian Foundation head Lee Williams told Reuters that several Symbian^3 devices that are slated for launch this year will cost only €100 without subsidy—a lower price than the cheapest Symbian phones that are available today. Williams believes that there is a lot of potential for broader Symbian adoption in developing markets where there is growing demand for ultracheap smartphones.

Source: ars technica

Tags: mobile phones, Nokia, Symbian

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