Head Of Symbian Foundation Resigns

Things are going from bad to worse in Nokia's Grand Scheme for World Dominence (ehem) Return to Relevance. This week, the head of the Symbian Foundation threw in the towel, leaving the non-profit organization responsible for the operating system's development.

This follows news that Sony Ericsson has bailed on Symbian, leaving Nokia to go it alone. On top of that, two weeks ago Ari Jaaksi, the head of Nokia's other hopeful open source project, the Meego operating system, left. He quickly bobbed up working for HP. At one point, Symbian was backed by the likes of Motorola, Samsung and Fujitsu, but Motorola and Samsung have both turned tail, concentrating on the faster-moving, more advanced Android. Fujitsu remains a stakeholder but the Japanese electronics giant doesn't have much of a mobile phone presence worldwide.

Symbian was always Nokia's baby, even though in February it went open source, a desperate too-little-too-late attempt to thwart the iPhone and Android OS. With the immediate departure of its Executive Director Lee Williams (pictured) citing "personal reasons," Symbian's future is questionable. He lead the effort since 2008, the year the foundation was formed.

The foundation's top spot has been handed to Tim Holbrow, formerly the Symbian Foundation’s CFO. Holbrow's background is in accounting, he was the director of finance at Nokia before joining the foundation, though he's been with the Symbian effort for eight years -- before it was a non-profit.

I wish Tim the best of luck but some news reports are calling the departure of Williams as a signal that the Symbian Foundation is rapidly imploding. Now that the operating system is open source, even if the foundation dries up, others could (if they so wanted) still work with the mobile OS. It's possible someone would. Nokia lays claim to the largest cell phone market share. By the numbers, Symbian accounts for over 40% of the total mobile phone market, which dwarfs the under 20% market share of its nearest competitors, according to Gartner. In March, Nokia said it expected to sell 1.26 billion cellphones in 2010 worldwide.

But Holbrow will need more than luck and a clever head for math, considering how thoroughly disliked Nokia's flagship N8 has been. Russian site Mobile-Review.com described the N8 as a buffed-up version of other Nokia phones, and implied it dragged down the Nokia brand name. Yikes.

Nokia N8

Engadget rated the N8 only a 5 on its 10-point scale. It loved the hardware but thoroughly dissed the Symbian software, "Unfortunately, by evolving at a glacial (and largely superficial) pace, Symbian itself continues to cater specifically to a market of individuals who were early smartphone adopters five or more years ago," reviewer Vlad Savov wrote.

PCWorld gave the device three out of five stars, with a headline that reads, "Nokia N8: Hardware Impresses, but Software Underwhelms." I could point out more reviews like these two, but this quote sums them all up, from PC World's Ginny Mies, "The N8 is a remarkably hot-and-cold phone. It has some amazing features, such as the camera and video support, but the software is almost too frustrating to work with." Ouch. 

Nokia's second smartphone sporting the Symbian^3 OS, the C7, hit the market earlier this month.  It uses fundamentally the same software on slightly less expensive hardware. Given the timing of Williams' departure, will the C7 get warmer reviews? I'm doubtful.