Nokia to ditch Symbian on high-end phones

It looks like Nokia will slowly phase out Symbian as a high-end smartphone operating system, ultimately switching to the slicker Maemo in its N-series of phones.

According to The Really Mobile Project, Nokia intends to have Maemo in all of its “top-end” N-series phones by 2012. There aren’t any plans right now to put Maemo in Nokia’s video-centric X-series or enterprise E-series, and Nokia has always insisted that it’s still committed to Symbian, which the company has owned in a joint venture with other manufacturers since 1998.

Maemo is getting some time in the spotlight now thanks to the Nokia N900, which incidentally went on sale in U.S. stores today for $650, unlocked. (Amazon has it for $510 after a $50 mail-in rebate.) The N900 has some nice specs, such as a 3.5-inch display with 800-by-480 resolution, a 600 MHz ARM Cortex A8 processor, 1 GB of application memory and a 3D graphics accelerator with OpenGL support.

nokian900

But the real star of N900’s show is Maemo, a Linux-based operating system with multitasking, smooth scrolling and — best of all — a Firefox-based Web browser that supports full Adobe Flash (though you can thank the N900’s hardware in part for making that happen).

Thing is, the N900 is a niche product, aimed at developers and tech enthusiasts who are willing to pay a pretty penny for new technology. Over time, Nokia will develop more devices running Maemo, hopefully in slimmer packages with carrier subsidies that will bring down the up-front cost.

For Nokia, that’s a good thing. As Really Mobile points out, Symbian’s a mature mobile platform, but it’s starting to feel a bit stale in comparison to new operating systems such as Google’s Android, Palm’s WebOS and the iPhone OS. Consumers who want to buy into expensive smartphones are looking for some flash, as we’ve seen recently with Motorola’s Droid, and it’d just be impossible to sex up Symbian for a top-shelf product. Maemo can compete with those heavy hitters, so it makes sense for Nokia to shift away from Symbian in its flagship phones.