MeeGo – Born On Death Row?

It's the only phone in the world to be made entirely out of licorice

A few days ago I suggested that Nokia’s lovely N9 might be the last as well as the first phone to use the MeeGo operating system. Now it would seem that speculation is confirmed. Well, it is if you want to go by a single short article in a Finnish daily paper, but that’s the sort of scrap of information people are grabbing at – particularly people in the MeeGo development community, who of course are desperately invested in this.

It isn’t true. Not on a literal level at least, because there are in fact two MeeGo phones. And though the N950 will be available to developers only and not the general public, why would they be releasing a phone to help people develop apps if they don’t plan to have anything to run them on? I think CEO Stephen Elop means only to counter the opposite rumours – that the good reception the N9 received was going to make Nokia switch back to MeeGo as its main strategy. That was only ever a fantasy.

I strongly suspect however that Nokia plan to keep MeeGo going as a little back-burner project – much as it was until quite recently. Remember, MeeGo is not a new thing but just the latest in a line of semi-experimental products based on Linux: the 770, N800, N810 and N900. These were never big sellers either, but Nokia is a company that has done well in the past by fielding a range of niche products.

Is there any point in buying one though when, no matter how good the hardware is, it lacks the ingredient that makes or breaks a phone in the world today; If MeeGo isn’t going to be a commercial product, who’s going to make apps for it?

Well they don’t necessarily have to. Don’t forget that all software for Symbian phones – which are going to be with us for some years yet – is actually built for Nokia’s Qt framework, also used on MeeGo. Maybe Symbian apps haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but good recent phones like the N8 have revived them somewhat. Then of course, under the MeeGo skin the OS is basically Debian Linux. The Open Source community will be able to provide many heavy-duty applications, just as are currently available for Nokia’s earlier Linux devices.

And, it has Java. OK, big whoop. Java on phones has always been a should-have-been. Except… Android apps are basically Java, aren’t they? Running on a version of Linux too. With that similar basic structure, it should be fairly easy to port Android apps to MeeGo.

Easy, or even trivial – if an application that rejoices under the name of Alien Dalvik fulfils its promise. This is not an emulator; it allows Android apps to run natively under MeeGo. Now that would be something; the vast supply of Androids apps, on mobile Linux, on Nokia hardware. The user would have to assemble it themselves I guess, but they’d get a combination that could easily rival the official Windows product. The only question, I suppose, is whether it will be allowed to happen.

Nokia’s Last Hurrah

N9 © Nokia

There’s no argument, the N9 is a beautiful device. It’s almost hypnotically attractive, better perhaps than even the iPhone at the magical trick of making you feel that this is how phones were always meant to look. Sculpted from curved glass and a single block of matte polycarbonate, graced with a simple, powerful new operating system, this is the most radically restrained design that Nokia has ever produced. Aesthetically, that is; from a feature viewpoint it’s downright exuberant. All in all, a tour de force of phone engineering.

Only one question really: What exactly is it for?

This is not the first of Nokia’s new Windows phones, rather it is the first with MeeGo. First, and quite possibly last. For MeeGo is the operating system that Nokia were developing to take on the iPhone. Until they lost their nerve, decided it couldn’t possibly be done in time to save the company, and let themselves be bought into Windows Phone 7 instead.

And yet here’s a MeeGo phone, somehow ready before any Windows one. What exactly happened there?

It had to be this way. If the Windows device had come out first, MeeGo might have been allowed to drift on without ever becoming finished product, and MeeGo was the one chance Nokia’s designers had to prove to the world – and to their boss – that they could have taken on Apple and won.

Launching an already doomed product might seem a bizarre expense for an already beleaguered company, but not bringing MeeGo to fruition also had a price – one that might have been paid in resignations. The N9 may best be understood as a magnificent gift; from Nokia’s management, to Nokia’s talent.

What Phone Is Right For You? 6 – Paradigm Shift Hits The Fan

Siemens "Fernscheiber 100" teletype....
Humble, and Deeply Unattractive, Origins

Though the iPhone changed personal computing forever, its significance was not immediately grasped even by Apple’s competitors – perhaps particularly by them. Sure, the likes of Nokia and Blackberry probably appreciated the threat it represented in the high-end smartphone sector. Almost beyond doubt, Google saw the potential it had to control a huge slice of the market for Internet services. Microsoft would have recognised a major new extension of Apple’s many-tentacled marketing strategy.

What may have taken longer to sink in was the fact that Apple was taking them all on at once… As the iPad and its imitators demonstrate, the iPhone was harbinger of a new and very significant generation of devices – one that would break personal computing free from its clumsy origins.

For half a century, computers have followed essentially the same design paradigm. This is strange when you think about it, because they could really use almost any. All the operator is doing fundamentally is putting numbers in and getting numbers out, there must be a million ways to do that. Many were explored in the early years: dials, punched cards, paper tapes, patch cables, levers, bells, rows of switches and lights. The possibilities were endless – and deeply unstandardised.

Then some pioneer had the brilliant idea of using a teleprinter. You may not even remember these, they’re now almost extinct, but the teleprinter (also called teletype or telex) is essentially a networked, motorised typewriter. You type on your terminal, the one at the recipient’s end rattles off a printed message. The bright idea was to wire one of these up to a computer so its keyboard could be used for input and its printer for output. Using a pre-existing technology not only meant a big cost saving, but harnessed a recognised interface metaphor that users could grasp immediately. Replacing the printed paper display with text on a TV-like monitor made it all the more familiar and friendly. This metaphor was so effective that it has basically gone unchanged ever since. Even devices as svelte as the iMac or petite as a netbook are, under the skin, just fancy telex machines – like a shape-changing alien from a SciFi cartoon, unable to prevent hints of its true nature showing through its disguise.

There have been attempts to break the mould; perhaps the most effective was the use of pen input on devices like the PDA or Tablet PC. But that was just swapping the restrictions of one metaphor for those of another. What Apple realised was simple but profound – you could design a device without metaphor. Let the application in use dictate the interface; the device itself should come with as few restrictions or presuppositions as possible. Beyond the necessary limitations of form factor – it must be this size if you want to carry it as a phone, this size if you want to read comfortably and so on – it should be as reconfigurable as possible. Thus the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad family is a device as rich in possibility as we have ever had, and perhaps ever will until we figure out how to make shape-changing hardware.

But just because it’s revolutionary, that doesn’t necessarily mean the iPhone is the best phone you can get. And while some rivals still seem to be in shock even now, one company was ready to respond to and rival Apple’s innovation. One company may already be beating them at their own game.

What Phone Is Right For You? 6 – Paradigm Shift Hits The Fan

Siemens "Fernscheiber 100" teletype....
Humble, and Deeply Unattractive, Origins

Though the iPhone changed personal computing forever, its significance was not immediately grasped even by Apple’s competitors – perhaps particularly by them. Sure, the likes of Nokia and Blackberry probably appreciated the threat it represented in the high-end smartphone sector. Almost beyond doubt, Google saw the potential it had to control a huge slice of the market for Internet services. Microsoft would have recognised a major new extension of Apple’s many-tentacled marketing strategy.

What may have taken longer to sink in was the fact that Apple was taking them all on at once… As the iPad and its imitators demonstrate, the iPhone was harbinger of a new and very significant generation of devices – one that would break personal computing free from its clumsy origins.

For half a century, computers have followed essentially the same design paradigm. This is strange when you think about it, because they could really use almost any. All the operator is doing fundamentally is putting numbers in and getting numbers out, there must be a million ways to do that. Many were explored in the early years: dials, punched cards, paper tapes, patch cables, levers, bells, rows of switches and lights. The possibilities were endless – and deeply unstandardised.

Then some pioneer had the brilliant idea of using a teleprinter. You may not even remember these, they’re now almost extinct, but the teleprinter (also called teletype or telex) is essentially a networked, motorised typewriter. You type on your terminal, the one at the recipient’s end rattles off a printed message. The bright idea was to wire one of these up to a computer so its keyboard could be used for input and its printer for output. Using a pre-existing technology not only meant a big cost saving, but harnessed a recognised interface metaphor that users could grasp immediately. Replacing the printed paper display with text on a TV-like monitor made it all the more familiar and friendly. This metaphor was so effective that it has basically gone unchanged ever since. Even devices as svelte as the iMac or petite as a netbook are, under the skin, just fancy telex machines – like a shape-changing alien from a SciFi cartoon, unable to prevent hints of its true nature showing through its disguise.

There have been attempts to break the mould; perhaps the most effective was the use of pen input on devices like the PDA or Tablet PC. But that was just swapping the restrictions of one metaphor for those of another. What Apple realised was simple but profound – you could design a device without metaphor. Let the application in use dictate the interface; the device itself should come with as few restrictions or presuppositions as possible. Beyond the necessary limitations of form factor – it must be this size if you want to carry it as a phone, this size if you want to read comfortably and so on – it should be as reconfigurable as possible. Thus the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad family is a device as rich in possibility as we have ever had, and perhaps ever will until we figure out how to make shape-changing hardware.

But just because it’s revolutionary, that doesn’t necessarily mean the iPhone is the best phone you can get. And while some rivals still seem to be in shock even now, one company was ready to respond to and rival Apple’s innovation. One company may already be beating them at their own game.

What Phone Is Right For You? 4 – The Business End

Let’s deal first with the fact that there are two kinds of Windows phone. Microsoft got into the smartphone business early on by adapting the OS they had created for PDAs to be phone-capable. This ran mobile versions of their Office applications, designed to integrate seamlessly with a workplace PC. Useful to some, but of little interest to the general public – especially as the intentionally desktop-like interface makes it the least finger-friendly OS available. The latest version of this is Windows Mobile 6.5, and you are not likely to want it unless you have specific business needs.

Appreciating that the iPhone had changed the game completely, Microsoft came out – surprisingly quickly – with a whole new OS. They started afresh, with one eye firmly set on a pleasant user experience, and the result is an interestingly different interface made up of ’tiles’ that both indicate the status of and act as shortcuts to services like e-mail, SMS, Facebook and calls. Argument will rage over whether it is aesthetically appealing, but it is clearly highly usable.

What else does Windows Phone 7 have? Pretty much everything the iPhone does actually, including an integrated market for music and video downloads. But though this may make it seem just an imitation of the Apple product, a Zune to their iPod, it does have some real advantages. Microsoft are better at games. Each Windows Phone 7 device is a little gaming console, connected to their Xbox Live service. And of course they have taken care to retain their key strength: mobile versions of the Office suite of apps.

So it’s like an iPhone but with some great advantages. Where’s the catch?

Well the big one: it’s not finished. Aside from the fact that there are far fewer apps yet than for iPhone or Android, it’s lacking features that fans of the old Windows Mobile or of Symbian take for granted, like full multitasking, video calling, VoIP (Skype, etc.), cut-and-paste, or tethering (using it as a broadband modem with a laptop).

Intriguingly, similar features were also lacking in the first iPhone. So it’s expected that they will be added fairly quickly. But unless you are a business user with a pressing need for Microsoft Office, it might be better to wait and see what happens. Things should really get interesting when the first Windows Nokias come out next year.

But if you are a business user – or if you just fancy a touch of that urban professional chic – you’ll also be considering the BlackBerry. Manufacturer RIM first made it big with those two-way pagers that send and receive text messages. (Remember them?) This genetic inheritance shows in the fact that BlackBerries as a rule sport full qwerty keyboards and are designed to integrate with your corporate email system. They’re trying to escape the business ghetto too though; the number of apps available is shooting up, and they’re advertising on TV. But for the general user it’s hard to see any real reason to prefer it over its rivals.

Except one: BlackBerries can make an unbroken encrypted link all the way back to their home base, wherever in the world that is, preventing any possible interception of communication. Which is why some governments have banned them as being far too useful to spies and criminals – or to dissidents.

Which, you have to admit, is cooler than most.

Well that’s the businessy stuff. Tomorrow let’s look at phones we might really buy.

Windows Phone 7

What Phone Is Right For You? 3 – Enter The Gladiators

When you buy an advanced smartphone, the choice is less about the manufacturer than it is about the operating system (OS), the software framework that manages the phone and its apps. Each of the contenders has its way of doing things, each its benefits and pitfalls. Right now, you basically have a choice between these six:

Android – On an ever-increasing range of phones, most notably those from HTC and Samsung.

BlackBerry OS – On RIM‘s BlackBerry devices.

iOS – Apple’s iPhone (As well as the iPad and iPod Touch)

Symbian – Particularly on Nokia’s high-end phones, but also ones from Sony Ericsson and various Japanese manufacturers.

Windows Phone 7 – Currently found mainly on phones from HTC, but should be appearing on Nokias later this year.

Windows Mobile –  On many devices, again perhaps most notably those from HTC.

There are a couple of others like HP’s WebOS and Samsung’s Bada, but these are the ones you are likely to meet. How then do they differ – and where do they excel? We’ll begin, later today, with the more business-orientated. You know, the ones you can justify buying by pretending they’re for work.

What Phone Is Right For You? 1 – The Scene

Image via Wikipedia
It's really time for a new one

As I was saying, it’s never been as hard to choose a phone as it is now. This is far from a bad thing though; we’ve never had so many incredible choices. Phones have changed almost beyond recognition, from fairly straightforward communication devices into something we don’t even quite have a name for yet.

Certainly the term ‘smartphone’ no longer seems adequate. Though there were earlier experiments¹, the smartphone came into its own all of ten years ago now, when the mobile phone and the PDA were successfully merged by companies like Nokia and Microsoft. The magic ingredient: A proper operating system that allowed you to install software.

Since then, other functions have accrued continually. Cameras, Web browsers, e-mail, media players, Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi… Keypads became tiny to make room for Internet-friendly screens. Some – Microsoft in particular – introduced touch interfaces, but made them so crowded that they had to be navigated with a PDA-type stylus. The smartphone seemed full to the point of bursting.

Then Apple made the next great breakthrough, by introducing an interface that was not only sensitive to broad gestures, but which was utterly reconfigurable by whatever program was in use. At a stroke they solved the problem of the smartphone trying to be too many things, by reinventing it as an almost neutral object that could be reconfigured for an endless variety of tasks.

At the same time, they realised that what was essentially an Internet-connected iPod was a fantastic tool for selling things to people; music, video, the software “apps” it would run, and the services those apps could interface with. It was a goldmine. The other main players were slow to recognise this; Nokia and Microsoft so tardy that eventually they had to join forces. Only Google, the one with no previous involvement in phones, could see what was happening and knew what was to be done. They produced Android, now the leading rival to the iPhone.

But far from the only one; there are four or five competing systems, all with their strengths and weaknesses. So though we have great choices, they are real choices. Where once we might have chosen based on fairly trivial factors like appearance, buying a phone now means buying into a system – an ‘ecosystem’ as some call it – of software apps and services. It’s quite a commitment.

By weighing up the strengths and weaknesses of the various offerings however, it shouldn’t be too hard to tell which is the one that suits your needs. These we will look at in more detail tomorrow.

  1. The first real smartphone? Probably the Simon from quiet innovator IBM (pictured above). It may have been an ugly brick, but it was an ugly brick that was years ahead of its time.

First, Some Phone Nostalgia

Recently a friend asked me for advice on choosing a phone. It was hideously difficult – I don’t think it’s ever been harder to pick a phone than it is now. I miss the days when you couldn’t go wrong with a Nokia.

My first ever phone was a Motorola M3688, which was as charming as it was inept. Its sole apparent advance over Motorola’s previous model: It had a flip to cover the keys. It didn’t fold in half, you understand. It just had a plastic bit to cover its big rubbery buttons that you had to flip down if you wanted to dial. It served no clear purpose whatsoever, but that was the sort of design frippery that wowed us at the turn of the century. I can’t be sure now, but I think it may have swayed me to choose this one over the splendid Nokia 5110. A lesson to designers and marketers everywhere: shit sells.

It was massive by modern standards. Nowadays I keep my phone in my front left pocket. If I did that with the M3688 it looked like I was pleased to see everybody. Despite the mass though, they were vulnerable. If you dropped one, it flew into pieces. Though admittedly once you reassembled it it usually worked again. (They were less resistant to moisture; in the end I lost mine to submersion.)

After this it was Nokias all the way, or almost. The great 5110 (stolen), followed by what I consider to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing phones ever, the 3210, which also brought predictive texting (also stolen). This was followed by the 3310; though a lot less appealing in looks this introduced a raft of great features like vibrating alert (still have, still works).

But then I took a wrong turn, and bought a Sony Ericsson – the V600i. Now I am possibly being unfair; the problem with swapping between Nokias and Sony Ericssons is that they are so similar. It is the tiny differences in key layouts and so on that you will find too irritating to bear. But on the whole this wasn’t a very successful phone. Every plus had its concomitant minus. It was very attractive and impressively compact, but the keys were too small and – stupidly – glossy to use comfortably. It was my first camera phone, but at 1.3 megapixel resolution it was barely worth having. It was a 3G phone – the first affordable one on the market – but its tiny screen, weak camera and hopelessly basic browser meant there was really nothing you could do with that fast data.

Vodafone seemed to think they could get us streaming video – to 1.8″ screens. My devious plan, in the days when 3G or even GPRS data modems were still expensive business toys, was to hook it up to my laptop to feed my Internet addiction when I couldn’t get Wi-Fi. But I hadn’t done the research; though it could get 3G data, and though it had a data transfer cable to connect it to a PC, it couldn’t share the connection over the cable. Dumb bastard. (Still have, though I can’t find charger.)

My first actual smartphone was a Nokia N70. It ran the Symbian operating system, and could do real smartphone stuff like syncing contacts and calendars. I know, not impressive in this age of apps, but a huge leap still. At last it could be used as a tethered data modem, but 3G modems with much better data pricing were now coming out so there was little point. (Stolen – though only after it had been retired to spare phone status.)

And it was a good enough camera phone to get me hooked on the spontaneous kind of photography the things allow; soon I wanted a better one. The 5 megapixel Nokia 6220 Classic was that, plus it added GPS to the mix and finally made Web on a phone comfortable. In almost every respect this phone was really an N82, one of Nokia’s top models, squeezed into a smaller and (visibly) cheaper package. The only real sacrifice was Wi-Fi. In brief, a good mid-range smartphone at a great price.

And thus, irrelevant.

The dinosaur metaphor is irresistible. The landscape they once ruled has changed suddenly and utterly. The comet of course was the iPhone, and Nokia are left blinking and wondering what the cold white stuff falling from the sky is. Compile a list of the ten best-loved phones today, and there might not be a single Nokia on it. It isn’t that they got worse. I would argue in fact that Nokia still make the best phones, as phones. Their problem is that a lot of people don’t want phones any more. They want repurposable social connectivity stroke mobile media Swiss army… things. What are they even? The phone is evolving, and it’s not yet clear into what. Nokia certainly didn’t seem to know.

But never mind what’s next for Nokia. What the hell phone am I going to buy now?

First, Some Phone Nostalgia

Recently a friend asked me for advice on choosing a phone. It was hideously difficult – I don’t think it’s ever been harder to pick a phone than it is now. I miss the days when you couldn’t go wrong with a Nokia.

My first ever phone was a Motorola M3688, which was as charming as it was inept. Its sole apparent advance over Motorola’s previous model: It had a flip to cover the keys. It didn’t fold in half, you understand. It just had a plastic bit to cover its big rubbery buttons that you had to flip down if you wanted to dial. It served no clear purpose whatsoever, but that was the sort of design frippery that wowed us at the turn of the century. I can’t be sure now, but I think it may have swayed me to choose this one over the splendid Nokia 5110. A lesson to designers and marketers everywhere: shit sells.

It was massive by modern standards. Nowadays I keep my phone in my front left pocket. If I did that with the M3688 it looked like I was pleased to see everybody. Despite the mass though, they were vulnerable. If you dropped one, it flew into pieces. Though admittedly once you reassembled it it usually worked again. (They were less resistant to moisture; in the end I lost mine to submersion.)

After this it was Nokias all the way, or almost. The great 5110 (stolen), followed by what I consider to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing phones ever, the 3210, which also brought predictive texting (also stolen). This was followed by the 3310; though a lot less appealing in looks this introduced a raft of great features like vibrating alert (still have, still works).

But then I took a wrong turn, and bought a Sony Ericsson – the V600i. Now I am possibly being unfair; the problem with swapping between Nokias and Sony Ericssons is that they are so similar. It is the tiny differences in key layouts and so on that you will find too irritating to bear. But on the whole this wasn’t a very successful phone. Every plus had its concomitant minus. It was very attractive and impressively compact, but the keys were too small and – stupidly – glossy to use comfortably. It was my first camera phone, but at 1.3 megapixel resolution it was barely worth having. It was a 3G phone – the first affordable one on the market – but its tiny screen, weak camera and hopelessly basic browser meant there was really nothing you could do with that fast data.

Vodafone seemed to think they could get us streaming video – to 1.8″ screens. My devious plan, in the days when 3G or even GPRS data modems were still expensive business toys, was to hook it up to my laptop to feed my Internet addiction when I couldn’t get Wi-Fi. But I hadn’t done the research; though it could get 3G data, and though it had a data transfer cable to connect it to a PC, it couldn’t share the connection over the cable. Dumb bastard. (Still have, though I can’t find charger.)

My first actual smartphone was a Nokia N70. It ran the Symbian operating system, and could do real smartphone stuff like syncing contacts and calendars. I know, not impressive in this age of apps, but a huge leap still. At last it could be used as a tethered data modem, but 3G modems with much better data pricing were now coming out so there was little point. (Stolen – though only after it had been retired to spare phone status.)

And it was a good enough camera phone to get me hooked on the spontaneous kind of photography the things allow; soon I wanted a better one. The 5 megapixel Nokia 6220 Classic was that, plus it added GPS to the mix and finally made Web on a phone comfortable. In almost every respect this phone was really an N82, one of Nokia’s top models, squeezed into a smaller and (visibly) cheaper package. The only real sacrifice was Wi-Fi. In brief, a good mid-range smartphone at a great price.

And thus, irrelevant.

The dinosaur metaphor is irresistible. The landscape they once ruled has changed suddenly and utterly. The comet of course was the iPhone, and Nokia are left blinking and wondering what the cold white stuff falling from the sky is. Compile a list of the ten best-loved phones today, and there might not be a single Nokia on it. It isn’t that they got worse. I would argue in fact that Nokia still make the best phones, as phones. Their problem is that a lot of people don’t want phones any more. They want repurposable social connectivity stroke mobile media Swiss army… things. What are they even? The phone is evolving, and it’s not yet clear into what. Nokia certainly didn’t seem to know.

But never mind what’s next for Nokia. What the hell phone am I going to buy now?

Microsoft and Nokia: A No-Win Situation? (Part 2)

NoWin CartoonYesterday I speculated that the smartphone market could devolve into a straight fight between Apple and Nokia-Microsoft. This would depend of course on people actually liking what the latter two companies have to offer. If they manage to combine the best of what they can do, the results should be impressive. But will they? Until the first phones come out, which will be October at the very soonest, we can only wait with bated breath. Windows Phone on Nokia has a lot to live up to.

Or perhaps, to live down. At a stroke, this deal effectively eliminated not only the world’s most popular smartphone OS, but also a promising alternative.

There were reasons for this. Symbian, with its pedigree stretching back to the very first handheld computers, was unwieldy when compared to the radical interface-orientation of its new rivals. To take one example, an operation as trivial as creating a screen icon for a newly installed app required digging down through menus within menus to find one called, of all things, “Standby Mode”. That just wasn’t good enough anymore.

To deliver a slick modern experience, Symbian needed to be drastically rebuilt. Nokia dithered about this, working on both an improved form (Symbian^3) and its slated successor (MeeGo) in parallel. And so ended up with one system that was serviceable but unimpressive and another that was impressive but unserviceable. Meanwhile, Apple and Google were eating their market share alive.

But there was another company that knew its smartphone OS needed to be replaced, and it pulled the trick off with surprising alacrity. This of course was Microsoft.

The case for simply adopting the software giant’s solution seems compelling now, but few predicted it. Even when former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop became Nokia’s CEO last September, rumours that he planned to move his old office furniture in with him seemed merely mischievous. Abandoning their own OS development would be a move Nokia could never take back, and so lead to almost irrevocable dependence on a company that had up till then been a bitter rival.

It was only with the recent leak of Elop’s harsh memo that the hints became impossible to ignore. In it he used the metaphor of a “burning platform” – as in, you don’t jump into the cold ocean until you realise your oil rig is on fire – to illustrate just how drastically Nokia needed to change. But the language was hardly even coded; platform in computing terms means the combination of hardware and operating system a program runs on. In fact Nokia had only recently rebranded Symbian as the “Symbian Platform”. The writing was on the wall for an OS that, with its roots in the Psion Organiser of the 80s, is almost a cultural artefact.

But it may be missed by more than just a few sentimental geeks. A mobile OS from the start, Symbian was designed with security and frugal energy demands as priorities, and decades of development have given it considerable depth. Too much perhaps, if you’re trying to find a particular facility within its maze of menus, but there is little you might want a phone to do that isn’t there. And this includes many features that are not yet in Windows Phone 7. Well-loved old ones, like tethering, swapping data cards, full multitasking, compatibility with a vast range of media formats. New ones well in advance of its rivals, like USB On-The-Go which allows you to connect a phone directly to flash drives and hard disks.

Features that may never return if, like the iPhone, it is developed primarily as a system for delivering services and digitally managed content. Unless much happens between now and the first Nokia with Windows, former Symbian users may consider it limited and disappointing. Don’t be surprised if they dub it the No-Win.