Nokia slates multiple Symbian upgrades for 2011

Nokia will add a new look for the user interface; smartphones with faster processors, more graphics memory also planned for next year

Nokia is planning to roll out four or five upgrades to its Symbian OS in the next 12 to 15 months, adding a new look for the user interface and a more flexible home screen as it tries to make its struggling operating system relevant again, according to a presentation given at the 2010 International Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

Recently, Nokia announced it will take over development of the Symbian OS and also change the way it updates smartphones based on the latest version of the operating system, including the new N8. Instead of making big upgrades, it said it will make more frequent, incremental improvements. To judge by two slides from a presentation given by Nokia senior manager Gunther Kottzieper, the company is planning to make good on that promise.

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A software upgrade planned for the first quarter of 2011 will include more than 50 enhancements, including a browser with a more intuitive user interface. During the second and third quarters Nokia will add "a new look and feel for the user interface, a more flexible home screen, an updateable HTML5 browser and an easier software update experience", according to a slide labelled "Nokia Symbian 2011 focus areas."

Nokia will also up the hardware ante in 2011. The slides don't mention any new models, but Nokia will equip upcoming models with 1GHz processors and more graphics memory in the second or third quarter. There are also plans for smartphones with dual-core processors and what Nokia calls a "true zoom camera", but those products aren't scheduled to arrive until the fourth quarter of 2011 or the first quarter of 2012.

There were 29.5 million Symbian-based smartphones sold in the third quarter, compared to 18.3 million a year earlier, according to market research company Gartner. But Symbian's market share still dropped from 44.6 percent to 36.6 percent. One major reason for the drop is the success the Android camp is enjoying. Sales of Android phones increased to 20.5 million in the third quarter, up from just 1.4 million a year earlier, halving the distance that separates Android from Symbian.

Android's share of the smartphone market is now 25.5 percent, and it threatens to overtake Symbian unless Nokia does something radical. Whether the planned updates will be enough to put Symbian back in the race remains to be seen.

(IDG News Service correspondent Michael Kan in Beijing contributed to this story.)

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com.

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