Nokia Rings Changes with Symbian Belle Release and New Phones

Platform Update is a Step Forward, But Nokia Still has a Mountain to Climb

Today Nokia unveiled Symbian Belle, the latest update to its troubled software platform. Belle provides a clear answer to anyone doubting Nokia’s commitment to Symbian, and it’s undoubtedly a significant step forward. Compared with the recently released Anna update, it offers a more tangible improvement for users that goes a long way to narrowing the gap between Symbian and rival smartphone platforms.

Major features that stand out in the new release include the flattening of the menu structure; improvements to the home screen, with a variety of widget designs and more idle screens; smoother graphics transitions and a pull-down status bar that’ll be familiar to Android users.

Nokia continues to face the enormous challenge of convincing operators, distribution channels and developers that Symbian is a platform with a future. Those involved with Symbian will regard that as a disingenuous statement. But the fact remains that since the unveiling of its seismic shift to Windows Phone 7 in February 2011, Nokia has struggled to convince anyone that Symbian is a worthwhile bet. More ominously, this battle has coincided with Nokia’s share of the smartphone market dropping from 25 percent to 15 percent in just one quarter — something that would have been unthinkable just two years ago.

nokia_700It’s hard to know what advice to give Nokia to overcome this perception problem, but one glimmer of hope comes from the new Nokia 700 phone, one of three new devices announced in Hong Kong alongside the Belle update. Pictures don’t do it justice —it really is a lovely piece of hardware.

It’s been a long time since Nokia had a phone that jumped out at me the first time I saw it, so the 700 can only be good news for the beleaguered Finnish manufacturer. I’ve a sneaky suspicion that the 700 and the improved Symbian software could be a surprise hit in some markets, albeit somewhat muted when compared with the performance of flagship products in Nokia’s heyday.

However, despite an attractive new device and real progress on Symbian, I fear Nokia still has a huge mountain to climb, particularly while all eyes remain firmly on its efforts with Windows Phone 7.