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What is Symbian OS?

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

Symbian OS is an operating system for mobile phones primarily used on Nokia advanced or data enabled smart phones. Symbian OS runs exclusively on ARM processors and has evolved from Psion's EPOC which was developed as a rudimentary operating system for early electronic organizers. The Psion EPOC OS was referred to EPOC16 beginning in the late 1990's to help distinguish it from the newer 32bit Operating system EPOC32, which eventually became Symbian OS. Psion software created a joint venture with several mobile hardware manufacturers, Ericsson®, Motorola®, and Nokia® called Symbian and eventually took on the name Symbian Software, renaming EPOC32 Symbian OS.

The key advantage of EPOC32 over its 16bit predecessor is the ability to multi-task, perform multiple functions at once. In newer devices, this might mean being able to surf the web using the phone and not lose your content when answering an incoming call.

Many third party manufacturers were able to license the 32bit EPOC OS for their organizers and other mobile data devices. Since the late 1990's,Symbian OS has become one of the most popular mobile device operating systems available.

Woman holding an optical disc
Woman holding an optical disc

Symbian OS has also adapted to include soft features such as global positioning software (GPS) which will become as common as a camera in the very near future. Service providers and other companies could then publish location based services that interact with the GPS found in a mobile phone, appearing on the display once the user is near an application.

In recent years, Microsoft® and Palm® have been the most discussed providers of operating system software for mobile phones, but Symbian has been powering phones for quite some time. The support for the much established mobile platform is far and wide, though much of the press lately has centered around Apple's iPhone® and other offerings, including the Google Android™ OS for mobile devices.

It will be interesting to see what hardware is developed for use with Symbian OS in the future to compete with phones like the iPhone® and the latest mobile devices from Palm® and Microsoft®.

Discussion Comments


i have a question. What OS does other phones (i.e. "non-smart phones) run on?


I would be pretty impressed if an open source company, even one fairly established like Symbian, were able to produce something really able to challenge the dominance of the iPhone and other Apple products. I think that "smart" Symbian OS phones would be good for the consumer, both in terms of choice and of the price competition that would follow.

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