As once-mighty Symbian enters hospice, will it be missed?

Nokia refuses to say when Symbian shipments will finally end, but concedes latest woes can be traced to software's complexity

Shipments of new Symbian smartphones from Nokia are rapidly dying, less than three years after the last time it topped the list of the world's most-used mobile platforms.

The rapid and stark decline of Symbian serves as a warning about what can happen to top smartphone operating systems, even iOS and Android, in a volatile market, analysts said.

In another decade, pray tell, where will the iPhone stand?

Despite Symbian's recent place among the ranks of the tech greats, there won't be many tears shed for its demise, or many fond remembrances. There won't be a short epitaph on a tombstone somewhere in Espoo, Finland, Nokia's hometown.

The company is now focused on making Windows Phone-based smartphones like the Lumia line as well as the low-cost Asha phones that run a variant of Symbian.

"For many people, Nokia phones on Symbian were [once] the epitome of a smartphone," said Yankee Group analyst Boris Metodiev in a blog post this week. "That time is long gone. No one is going to miss Symbian. Most people will not even notice its disappearance. "

A Nokia spokesman on Friday refused to say when the company expects to stop shipping Symbian devices. The Financial Times on June 11 reported that Nokia's Symbian shipments will end this summer.

The Nokia spokesman, Mark Durrant, said via email that Nokia decided to switch to Microsoft's Windows Phone OS as its primary smartphone platform in February 2011 partly because Symbian had become complicated and time-consuming for developers.

"It took around 22 months to get a Symbian phone out of the door," Durrant said via email. "With Windows Phone, it is less than a year. We spend less time having to tinker with deep-lying code and more time on crafting elements of the experience that make a big difference, such as around photography, maps, music and apps in general."

Durrant did honor Symbian a bit, noting that the last Symbian phone, the Nokia 808 PureView that was introduced in Russia in May 2012, has a remarkably high-quality 41-megapixel camera.

The 808 PureView "extended the [Symbian] platform's pioneering tradition, and acted as a bridge for the next wave of innovation now seen in our latest models, such as the Lumia 925," Durrant said.

Durrant added that "many Symbian devices remain in use around the world and continue to offer opportunities for developers and others in the ecosystem."

Recent demise of Symbian

Nokia outsourced Symbian software development and support to Accenture in September 2011, when it said that the development and support for the OS would continue "at least until 2016." About 2,300 Nokia employees were transferred to Accenture at the time.

Accenture couldn't be reached to comment this week on when it expects Symbian shipments will finally end.

In April, IDC predicted predicted that "Symbian will meet its end in 2014." IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said Friday that many of the remaining shipments will be by a Japanese vendor of devices using a variant of Symbian (one not used by Nokia) to wireless carrier NTT Docomo.

About 6.3 million devices running all versions of the Symbian OS will ship in 2013. IDC projects that 1.6 million Symbian devices will ship in 2014, and none the following year.

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