Is history repeating itself with Nokia?

I just saw a line in a post on the Android Community site that caught my attention:

We all know Microsoft was the biggest player in the mobile OS arena for a long time, not because WinMo was the best, but because it was a lonely business in the past.

One of the more interesting tidbits to hit the Web in the last few days was this video posted to GigaOm featuring Symbian’s executive director, Lee Williams, who made some very pointed comments about Android and Apple in the context of Symbian as an open source operating system:

While his confidence in Symbian is admirable and it really is an open source platform that has a number of good things going for it, I felt a little uneasy about his comments. To paraphrase a line from Hamlet, Williams doth protest too much about Android and the iPhone OS. Yes, Symbian is open and its membership is diverse but I just don’t see news about a host of manufacturers who have adopted Symbian as their platform of choice.

On the other hand we have seen a host of new Android devices announced in the last few months alone. And remember, Android is an open source platform too (although some of the Google apps on Android devices are proprietary). In fact, developers are drawn to the open platform and the open Android marketplace (certainly a lot more open than the iTunes App Store which a growing number of developers are becoming unhappy with due to its byzantine approval process).

The Ovi Store has a number of really nice apps which I’ve installed on my N97. Their UI is a welcome departure from the clunky S60 UI and yet the Ovi Store just doesn’t seem to be taking off quite as fast. Now this is despite Nokia’s dominance globally (yes, even if you count the USA – I think). If you add to this growing frustration with delays in firmware updates and some time before we see a meaningful change to the Symbian UI, I wonder if Nokia is going to be able to maintain its lead in high end devices going forward?

So what does that quote at the beginning have to do with all of this? Well, Microsoft was the mobile device platform leader in its day. Nokia has a lead on its competitors now. It has more of its devices out there running Symbian variations than its competitors. The challenge it faces is maintaining that lead in the face of growing demand for better UIs. While there is a lot of hype about the iPhone and its revolutionary UI and apps, I see Android being even bigger in coming years. The devices seem to be cheaper, the UI and its variations are terrific and more and more major manufacturers are producing Android devices including Sony Ericsson which is expected to announce a new device next week. Sony Ericsson is a Symbian Foundation founding member too.

History tends to repeat itself and Nokia could find itself on the receiving end this time around if it doesn’t up its game soon.

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