Flashback: how Symbian Anna tried to bring an old OS into the modern touchscreen world


The king was on his final legs – Symbian as soon as dominated the smartphone world, however the introduction of the iPhone adopted by the arrival of Android spelled the tip for the platform. Nonetheless, it could not go light into that good night time.

Symbian is the core of the OS and there have been a number of person interfaces constructed on prime of it. Collection 60 is probably the best-known amongst them – it made its debut with the Nokia 7650, which was not solely Nokia’s first digital camera cellphone, but in addition the first mass-market Symbian phone (there have been some area of interest telephones earlier than it).

Nokia 7650, the first mass-market Symbian phone
Nokia 7650, the primary mass-market Symbian cellphone

For essentially the most half, Collection 60 ran on telephones with a show between 2 and three inches. The UI was constructed round a D-pad, which was used to navigate between components on the display, and several other good buttons, which triggered context-sensitive actions.

There was additionally the Collection 80, utilized in QWERTY-packing Communicator telephones from Nokia, however the Finns primarily used S60. None of these Communicators had a contact show, anyway.

There was additionally Symbian UIQ, which was constructed for PDA-style gadgets. We revisited that department of Symbian again in our Sony Ericsson P910 Flashback. UIQ was designed for touchscreens – resistive touchscreens that have been meant for use with a pointed stylus extra so than a finger (a finger, particularly a fingernail, labored more often than not, although).

Sony Ericsson P910
Sony Ericsson P910

Quick ahead to 2008 and we get to Symbian Collection 60 fifth version or because it was later referred to as, Symbian^1. This one was a Symbian UI constructed for contact, however as a substitute of drawing inspiration from the now-dead PDAs like UIQ did, third version cribbed from the iPhone. We’ve already mentioned the reasons why it failed in our Nokia 5800 retrospective – bolting contact on prime of a D-pad primarily based UI simply didn’t work.

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic
The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic was a serious push in the direction of contact UI – a failed one

At this time we need to concentrate on what got here subsequent, Symbian Anna, which arrived a 12 months after the launch of Symbian^3 (Symbian^2 launched solely in Japan). Anna was unveiled in early 2011 alongside the Nokia X7 and Nokia E6. The E6 was a bar cellphone with a QWERTY keyboard (and a 2.45″ contact show), however the X7 was all contact (4.0″ show).

Even higher, house owners of sure older Nokias would obtain Anna as an replace, that was the case for the Nokia N8 and E7. The Nokia C7 and C6-01 acquired it too.

Nokia E6
Nokia X7
Nokia C7
Nokia C6-01

Nokia E6 • Nokia X7 • Nokia C7 • Nokia C6-01

We updated our Nokia C7 review to cowl all the brand new options – let’s go over them collectively. Actually, this feels extra like rediscovering the restrictions of older Symbian as a substitute. Was it actually that unhealthy? Sure, it was.

Maybe the 2 largest upgrades that got here with Anna over ^3 have been the brand new keyboard and the brand new browser. “That’s it?” you might be considering. Properly, an image is value a thousand phrases, so right here it goes: the portrait keyboard of Symbian^3 is on the left, the one from Anna is on the proper.

Portrait keyboard: Symbian^3
Portrait keyboard: Symbian Anna

Portrait keyboard: Symbian^3 • Symbian Anna

In case it nonetheless isn’t clear, what you’re seeing on the left isn’t an app that’s sharing the display with the keyboard. No, that is the textual content enter interface – it lined the entire display and confirmed a panel for textual content and the keyboard beneath. In distinction, Anna’s keyboard (like all sane OS at the moment) simply appeared on the underside half of the display, obscuring a part of the app but in addition leaving the opposite half seen.

And sure, the one portrait possibility in ^3 was a digital T9 keyboard. In case you needed QWERTY, you needed to go in panorama mode.

Landscape keyboard: Symbian^3
Landscape keyboard: Symbian Anna.

Panorama keyboard: Symbian^3 • Symbian Anna.

That is what we imply by contact options being bolted on prime of a non-touch OS. The textual content enter interface made sense when telephones had 2.6” shows with 240 x 320px decision, it simply wasn’t value it to separate such a display between textual content and app.

It was worse than it might sound too, since multi-touch wasn’t supported which means that you just couldn’t hit a number of keys even on the total QWERTY keyboard in panorama mode – and should you sort with any type of pace, you’ll just do that. Multi-touch wasn’t obtainable in Anna both.

As talked about earlier, the opposite massive improve was the browser. Within the early days of cellular Web there was this factor referred to as WAP, which was very restricted. Finally as screens acquired higher, CPUs acquired sooner, RAM elevated and cellular knowledge acquired faster, telephones ventured into the true World Large Internet, the one which PCs have been searching. However this required a brand new era of browser to get the total expertise.

The browser UI was redesigned to go away as a lot of the display to the web page – the standing bar/URL area have been on prime, there was a again button within the backside left nook and a menu button within the backside proper. Talking of URLs, you possibly can sort one in with no foolish textual content enter UI protecting up your entire display.

The much-improved Symbian browser
The much-improved Symbian browser
The much-improved Symbian browser
The much-improved Symbian browser

The much-improved Symbian browser

Tabs have been supported as have been new internet applied sciences like HTML5. Flash nonetheless wasn’t fairly there – the Symbian browser might solely do Flash Lite 4. This gorgeous a lot excluded taking part in Flash video games and watching YouTube movies within the browser (you had to make use of the app).

The Symbian Anna homescreen
The Symbian Anna homescreen
The Symbian Anna homescreen
The Symbian Anna homescreen

The Symbian Anna homescreen

There have been different enhancements too. For instance, Symbian had supported dwelling display widgets for some time at this level, even a number of dwelling screens. Nonetheless, navigating between them wasn’t as fluid as on Android – you’ll swipe to the aspect, then the sliding animation would play out. With Anna (like on Android), the homescreen would instantly observe your finger.

Nokia additionally polished the e-mail app, the calendar app and the Ovi Maps app. It modified the icons to the still-popular squircle form too.

Issues have been wanting good – effectively, wanting higher – however Anna was nonetheless effectively behind Android. Former Symbian customers like Sony Ericsson and Motorola had converted to Android, it was simply Nokia that stored the outdated OS going. The Finnish large had much more enhancements within the pipeline, nonetheless, these wouldn’t be sufficient both.

Do you keep in mind Symbian Anna – and is it reminiscence or a foul one? We may have a better have a look at that adopted it Symbian Belle subsequent week.


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