Growing use of Symbian provides opportunities for app developers

Based on open standards, Symbian is used in many mobiles

Based on open standards, Symbian is used in many mobiles

What is it?

Symbian is an open standards operating system for handheld computers and data-enabled mobile phones. It supports Java, PC synchronisation, Bluetooth wireless access and GPRS packet-switched data.

According to IDC, by 2008 more than 130 million smartphones will be sold worldwide each year. A substantial chunk of that market is likely to go to Symbian. The number of phones sold worldwide with the Symbian OS more than doubled in 2004 to 14 million. During the first quarter of 2005 that growth accelerated, with seven million Symbian handsets sold.

The phones come from some of the world's leading mobile suppliers, including Nokia, Panasonic, Siemens and Sony Ericsson. Of a total of 48 Symbian models, 12 are designed for 3G networks in Europe and Japan.

The number of Symbian OS applications shipped in 2004 nearly doubled, from 1,962 to 3,804. Hundreds of companies produce tools and applications for the Symbian OS, from small software houses to the likes of IBM, Borland, Hewlett-Packard and Symantec

Where did it originate?

UK handheld computer supplier Psion formed Symbian in 1998, along with Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola. The first Symbian OS phone was released in 2000. During the next five years, most mobile phone manufacturers in Europe and the Far East either licensed Symbian or bought into the company. Psion sold its stake in 2004, but Symbian's headquarters remain in London.

What's it for?

The latest version, Symbian OS v9, is aimed at the consumer market, with enhanced music capabilities and support for "multi-mega-pixel" camera phones. But it also has enterprise features, including the ability to exchange data with Lotus Notes and Outlook, and enhanced Java support. However, the native language of Symbian is still C++.

What makes it special?

Symbian aims to embrace as wide a community of technologies and developers as possible through open standards, with support ranging from Microsoft Exchange (Symbian licensed the Exchange Server Activesync protocol earlier this year), to the IBM-backed Eclipse integrated development environment.

How difficult is it to master?

C++ developers have an advantage when learning Symbian, but support for Java came in with Symbian OS v5 and, more recently, .net developers have been targeted too.

As with other handheld platforms, developers will have to learn the constraints and disciplines of working with a small screen, cramped keyboard, smaller memory, and lower processor and line speeds than they will be used to on the desktop.

Where is it used?

Mobile network backers include Japan's DoCoMo, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

What systems does it run on?

The leading development toolkit, Nokia's Codewarrior Development Studio for Symbian OS, supports C/C++. Java support has been greatly extended in Symbian OS v9 and .net developers are supported using Appforge Crossfire.

What's coming up?

Symbian OS v9, and a plug-in enabling users to access e-mails and data on Exchange, will be launched later this year.


There is a lot of information on getting started on the Symbian website, which also lists some useful books.

The Nokia Forum is the strongest of many community groups offering support and code.

If you do not want to patch together your own training from these free or low-cost sources, Symbian training is held in London, costing about £450 a day for a two or three-day course.

Rates of pay

C++ developers with Symbian experience can expect to earn between £30,000 and £35,000.

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