Will Nokia be forced to ditch Symbian for Android?

20 Sep 2010

The number of smartphone owners in the world will exceed 1 billion by 2013, according to a new forecast. Android is tipped to overtake Symbian as the most popular operating system brand among smartphone subscribers.

According to analysts at Informa Telecoms & Media, the pressure could force Nokia to adopt an alternative operating system, such as Android.

The growth in smartphone adoption will be driven by the ongoing competition between top tier OEMs and challengers such as Google, RIM, Apple and Microsoft, who are racing to create the best possible user experience at lower pricing points.

Projected popularity of Android

Although Symbian currently leads the market, Android will become the most popular brand in the mobile OS market as it is expected to attract more than half a billion users by 2015.

“Informa Telecoms & Media expects that the market share of Symbian, from total smartphone users, to drop significantly from 53pc in 2009 to 32pc in 2015,” Malik Kamal-Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, explained.

In fact, the platform will maintain its leading position until 2014, when it will be ousted by Android, which will become the new platform leader thereafter. In terms of sales, smartphones powered by Android are expected to surpass these of Symbian as early as 2012 with more than 142 million Android phones expected to sell that year versus 137 million for Symbian.

The number of Android users is expected to grow rapidly, thanks to the strong support by almost all major players in the mobile industry value chain – with the exception of Nokia. In fact, this platform is currently supported by more than 200 regional mobile operators and 20 top tier vendors.

Today, about 100 Android smartphone models and variants have been launched worldwide, targeting different segments of the smartphone market.

The number of Android smartphone users is expected to grow 78pc CAGR between 2009 and 2015 to reach 540 million, representing 38pc market share from total smartphone subscribers. The number of Android users is expected to surpass that of both RIM’s BlackBerry and Apple’s iPhone by 2011.

Keeping pace with innovation

Symbian was developed more than 20 years ago and as the market evolves, the architecture of this platform has increased in complexity through a number of upgrade cycles and additions of new layers. Consequently, it is now becoming very hard for Symbian to keep up with innovation and bring champion smartphones to the market in a timely fashion.

“Android is gaining momentum rapidly and increasingly challenging alternative platforms, including RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iOS and Nokia-dominated Symbian. Although Symbian will retain a leading position in the smartphone market, if the platform continues to under-perform in bringing innovation, pressure will grow for Nokia and could push the company to consider the adoption of an alternative platform, notably Android in the future.

“If Nokia joins the Android party, the support of this ecosystem by all key players could help the mobile smartphone industry to potentially commoditise its terminal software business, much like what Microsoft did in the PC world.

“Of course, players who have chosen to pursue a vertical approach will survive but will be addressing different niche markets,” Kamal-Saadi concludes.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years