Hey look! There are three new Symbian phones out today. What? Where? Why, they’re over there, next to the pennyfarthings and the ham radios: the obsolete section. What the crap is going on here, Nokia?
Look, we all get it: Symbian used to be boss and blah blah first to blah blah N-Series blah groundbreaking blah blah. SHUT IT. Nobody knows this more than me: In 2005, I started using a Euro-market Nokia N95. It was dope. It had a GPS and a 5MP camera — Zeiss optics! — and Wi-Fi and stereo speakers and stereo Bluetooth. It was a world phone. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.
Sure, it was a little difficult to use, but I that was like a badge of honour at that point. I carried that thing until 2006, when I got an American-market version. It had 3G. Most people were still toting around edge, if they had smartphones at all. And if someone did have a mobile device that did more than make calls, send texts and snap VGA photos, it was usually an office-issue electronic leash like a Blackberry or a Windows mobile brick. The lucky ones had Treos running ancient Palm software. (Bejeweled 2 holla!) Nobody had a smartphone because it was fun. Except me.
I had a decent music player (hey, it got the job done) on my cell while everyone else’s pants were bulging with multiple gadgets. I was taking almost all of my photos with my 5MP phone, and surfing the web without a computer. I had apps. I could get driving directions from my mobile phone. (as long as I wasn’t in a city.) Remember five years ago when this stuff was a rarity? It’s worth thinking about for a second, just to appreciate what an amazing trip the last few dozen months have been.
So yeah, back to me loving my mobile life: Yes the operating system — Symbian S60 — was for shit, but it seemed a necessary price for living in the future: the tithe of the early adopter. Yes, the apps were hidden in an obscure menu within an obscure menu within an obscure menu, but I had apps; and yes, every app would run in the background, sucking the life out of your battery until you manually quit it, a procedure that required you to hit a button, scroll down to the end of an incredibly long list of functions, and hit exit. But you could install programs on your phone. You could copy and paste. In 2005. You could multitask. In 2005. Nokia was way ahead of anybody else in terms of what its customers were doing with their phones. And then what the hell happened? Nothing. Symbian received some much-needed “updates”, but they didn’t fundamentally alter the user experience.
By 2008, I felt like I was driving a Stanley Steamer while everyone partied at the gas stations. I joined the throng and got an iPhone. I was tired of playing Snake, even the fancy Tron-like “3D” version.
It’s a bit of an old saw at this point, but Symbian got lapped. The UI is a bit whizzier these days, but it has still barely advanced on a fundamental level. Even the current build feels devoted to a legacy platform. Functions are too complicated; simple tasks take too many button-clicks or movements to accomplish. The app store feels dangerous, filled with half-baked indy joints from devs who may or may not be looking to install a botnet on your phone.
And yet there’s this bright light in the distance: That soon Nokia phone will run Mango. That the company which has been consistently cranking out the best mobile hardware for the past decade will get a software dance partner worthy of its shiny shoes.
Then Nokia up and comes out with three new Symbian phones today. QUIT IT. Seriously. Finland. Do you read me? Stop making Symbian handsets. Repeat: kssshhhh Stop making Symbian handsets. Save your money for the Mango models. Wow us in October with something unexpected: competition for the iPhone. I’ll switch in a hummingbird’s heartbeat. And I won’t be alone.