What is Symbian^3?

What is a smartphone? I consider smartphones to be small pocket-sized computers with mobile phone functionality. A smartphone has an Operating System (OS) which provides a platform for software developers to create a range of applications. A smartphone allows the user to install and run these applications, making the device a unique and powerful tool. The Nokia N8 is based on the Symbian^3 operating system. Where did the Symbian^3 OS originate from?

Symbian Ltd. was a software development and licensing company who formerly developed and licensed Symbian OS, an operating system for advanced 2.5G and 3G mobile phones. Nokia acquired Symbian Ltd. in December 2008 and as a result, Nokia has become the major contributor to Symbian.  The Symbian platform is the successor to the Symbian OS and incorporates Symbian OS as its core, with a user interface component based on S60 5th Edition.  The first official release was called Symbian^1.  Symbian^2 was only released on a limited number of smartphones manufactured by Japanese companies (for example, Sharp). Symbian^3 introduced new features such as 2D and 3D graphics, numerous user interface improvements and HDMI support. It has single tap menus and up to three customizable home screens. Symbian^3 is the OS for the Nokia N8, C6-01, C7 and E7 smartphones. The Software Development Kit (SDK) was released September 2010. Nokia announced in October 2010 that Symbian^4 will not ship as a separate release. Instead, improvements to Symbian will be delivered as software updates to all current Symbian^3 devices.

Symbian^3 is designed to be a “next generation” smartphone platform. However, critics are saying that Symbian^3 is not a new OS, but rather a re-worked version of Symbian S60. Some of the biggest gripes include:
  • When swiping across home screens, you have to wait for the phone to catch up, rather than the screen moving immediately under your touch.
  • There are so many menus to drill through in order to find some applications and options.
  • The web browser lacks the speed and smoothness compared to Android’s or iOS’s (iPhone) web browser.

Symbian^3 may indeed have to play “catchup” when compared to the Android or iOS platforms. However, my argument to silence the critics is that operating system issues are easily fixed with software or firmware updates. On the other hand, hardware issues like the highly debated iPhone4 antenna problem cannot be easily repaired. Users with smartphones based on the 1 Ghz Snapdragon CPU will admit charging their phones daily.

Symbian^3 includes the Qt framework, which is now the recommended user interface toolkit for new applications. Visually rich touchscreen applications should be developed using Qt Quick with QML, a new high-level Graphic User Interface (GUI) and scripting framework. As more applications gradually feature a user interface reworked in Qt, the legacy S60 5th Edition framework will (at some point) no longer be included with new devices, thus breaking binary compatibility with older S60 applications. Qt has built-in support for HTML5 so Nokia intends to support HTML5 in Web browsers. For more information about Qt application development including Qt Quick and HTML5 support, go to qt.nokia.com/qtquick and qt.nokia.com/HTML5. Also, check out this Nokia forum at at www.forum.nokia.com/Develop/Qt/.

Symbian^3 can therefore run any application developed for the Symbian S60 3rd and 5th editions platforms as well as those based on the new QT framework. Symbian^3 can also run applications developed using Python for S60, Adobe Flash and Java ME. Basically, this means that the Nokia N8 can run literally thousands of applications developed for the Symbian platform.

So where can you obtain applications designed for the N8? There are a plethora of websites offering Symbian applications, the most obvious being the Nokia OVI Store.

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