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SEE 2009We’ve been on the floor at the Symbian Exchange and Exposition tradeshow at Earls Court, London all morning, checking out what’s new with Nokia as well as Sony Ericsson and Samsung’s experiments with the mobile operating system.

The answer though, is a depressing one: not a lot. The show is much smaller than last year, but that’s not all: we’ve heard a lot of grumbling from attendees about Symbian’s failings and inability to keep up, while smartphone software on rival platforms explodes. Is Symbian beginning to stagger? That’s what some developers have told us.

The answer ought to be a resounding no: since some form of Symbian is used on almost every Nokia handset out there, and it’s still the most used OS in the world right now. However, while last year’s show saw the debut of all sorts of goodies like the Samsung i7110, none of the three major handset manufacturers had anything new on show this time around. It’s clear both Samsung and Sony Ericsson are now pushing into other platforms, such as Android and Windows Mobile. And with the onslaught of the iPhone, and even webOS over the last 12 to 24 months, the game has changed entirely. Almost every developer we talked to told us the same thing: Symbian is stagnating.

ALK, for instance, was on hand to showcase its CoPilot Live 8 for Symbian S60 – it’s still riddled with bugs and is unlikely to be released this year, but has been out for Windows Mobile, iPhone and Android since August. Helen Luis, European PR and events executive at the company, told us that “Symbian always takes us a little more time… (and requires) different skills.”

Denis Escleine, business development manager at VisionsObjects, which makes handwriting apps across platforms, told us that Symbian had done little to keep up since the advent of Android. “I think that the approach of the operating system on mobile phones has changed in the last 12 months,” he told us.

“It’s driven by the iPhone and accelerated by Android. I think Symbian is far behind…If there is no change in user friendliness, and opening of the environment, I think it will die – they have to react.”

One software publisher meanwhile told us that he’d seen the number of contracts his company bagged for Symbian dive in the last year, with more companies asking him to develop outsourced Android and iPhone apps for them.

“It is getting less popular. The new companies coming in are asking for iPhone and Android,” said Algirdas Stonys, CEO of TeleSoftas.

We voiced these concerns to Shaun Puckrin, head of community support at the Symbian Foundation, but he was confident about the OS’s position, calling Android “competition, but not a threat,” and suggesting that the team behind Windows Mobile ought to be “more worried.”

He stressed Symbian’s “heritage of mobile” and low power footprint when battery life is so key, and promised that graphical and UI improvements would be made with future Symbian releases. “We are the market leader, and we’ll stay the market leader,” he said.

However, from the exhibitors on show today, you’d never guess the market for mobile apps and software had exploded in the last year and a half. There’s a distinct lack of excitement in the air, even at Symbian’s own events, and it’s clear the platform needs to get its buzz back if it wants grab the public’s attention in a rapidly overcrowding market.

What do you think? Has Symbian stagnated beyond rescue? Give us a shout in the comments section below.

  • Paulo

    The smart developers have had enough disappointment with Nokia and are betting their money on iPhone and Android.

    Symbian can’t compete – 18 wasted months.

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