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Symbian was an operating system for microcomputers, and it was used by many of Nokia's smart phones. Also other mobile phone manufacturers, like Motorola, Siemens and BenQ, used the operating system on their products. Symbian offered e.g. support for multitasking for devices that had little resources, although in the last years of Symbian the devices had very fast processors and huge amounts of RAM.

Programming for Symbian was done with programming languages Symbian C++, C++, Java MIDP, Java Personal profile, OPL, Visual Basic, C#, Python, Simkin, Flash Lite and C. The BASIC like OPL was unsupported in the last Symbian releases. The most effective language for Symbian was C++, although it was probably the hardest one to master of all the available languages.

Operating system versions

The last Symbian OS version was tenth. The first version was 5, and back then it was called ER5, "EPOC Release 5" (EPOC was the operating system's name before Symbian). 5th version was used, for example, in Psion Series 5mx handheld computers.

The first Symbian based phone open to third party applications was Nokia 9210 Communicator. Ericsson R380, which was launched before Nokia 9210, had Symbian OS, but the phone's software was limited to the one which was preinstalled into it: R380 had a so-called "closed operating system".

Below is a list of every Symbian OS publication

    Symbian OS 5.0
    Symbian OS 5.1
    Symbian OS 6.0
    Symbian OS 6.1
    Symbian OS 7.0
    Symbian OS 7.0s
    Symbian OS 8.0
    Symbian OS 8.0a
    Symbian OS 8.0b
    Symbian OS 8.1
    Symbian OS 8.1a
    Symbian OS 8.1b
    Symbian OS 9.0
    Symbian OS 9.1
    Symbian OS 9.2
    Symbian OS 9.3
    Symbian OS 9.4
    Symbian^3 (Symbian OS 9.5)
    Symbian Anna
    Nokia Belle (Symbian OS 10.1)

According to Symbian, all applications launched up to 75% faster in Symbian OS v9.4 onwards. Symbian also announced that its OS versions support quad core processor; it takes less power when only one processor is running, but when needed, extra performance can be brought from three other processors.

User interfaces

There were five user interfaces made to run on top of Symbian. The links below give information about each user interface, and in the bottom of that page there is a list of devices which use the user interface. The fifth, MOAP, is maintained by the Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo, is not covered here.

Series 60 (S60)

Series 60 was Nokia's smart phones' most common user interface, but it was also used by other mobile phone manufacturers.

Series 80 (S80)

Series 80 was the user interface used by Nokia's communicators. Yet Nokia E90 didn't use S80, but S60.

Series 90 (S90)

Series 90 was the user interface of Nokia's touchscreen phones 7710 and 7700.


UIQ was a touch screen user interface of e.g. some of Sony Ericsson's and Motorola's phone models.

Symbian Foundation

When Symbian became open source the releases were called Symbian^1, Symbian^2 etc. The phone manufacturers no longer need to pay for the licenses of using UI technologies, as in the days of UIQ and S60.

Questions related to Symbian OS (archives from 2006)

Can an end-user update the firmware of his/her phone with Symbian OS at home?
Depends on the phone model. Earlier the firmware update had to be done in an accredited Nokia store, but now Nokia has developed an internet-based update program (Nokia Software Updater), which can be used to update the firmware of numerous models. Nokia has a page where you can put your device's product code and see if it can be updated.

Can an end-user remove the operator's SIM-lock?
Depends on the model as well. Operator locked phone models are categorized into groups by their so-called BB number. The devices with BB5 technology have the newest and also the most secure locking mechanism, and they can't be unlocked by other methods than with a special software and hardware kit, which has some information here. BB5 devices are e.g. Nokia's Nseries and Eseries phones and Nokia 6630 and 6680.

Devices with earlier BB versions can be easily unlocked with a code that can be generated here. Your phone has BB5 technology in it, if it's SIM-locked and doesn't get unlocked with the code from the aforementioned page.

Why is Symbian C++ so specific?
The first Symbian devices were very low on resources and they could be continuously on for even months. Yet the user interface had to be fine-looking and fast, so the programming had to be more specific than for e.g. a computer environment. The programming language of Symbian is Symbian C++, and it's - obviously - derived from C++, by adding some properties which can be used to have more control over the operating system.

Currently Symbian (onward from S60 v3) supports the C programming language via the OpenC plug-in, so the C programmers out there can program and port applications onto Symbian fairly fast and easily.

Where should I start Symbian C++ learning?
Before learning Symbian C++ you should have
  • a good knowledge on C++
  • the SDK (Software Development Kit) of your desired device, which can be obtained for Nokia user interfaces from Forum Nokia
  • a good ability to read English
  • patience and motivation.
When all of these are obtained, you can start learning Symbian C++. For example, here is a large document for a Symbian programming beginner (although it's focused to S60 and its programming principles). You can also go to a Symbian programming course, which are nowadays arranged in many cities.

What is the Series 40?
The naming Series 40 is used for less-intelligent Nokia's color screen mobile phones. Series 40 is an official platform which doesn't relate to Symbian in any way.

Tell some quick facts about Symbian.
  • was founded in the year 1998
  • by the 16th of November 2006 there was 100 million Symbian devices shipped
  • the statistics of June 2006 showed that Symbian was dominating smart mobile market with 67% share
  • Symbian's file system uses the character \ as the separator between folders, just like PC
  • about 80% of the code of both Symbian OS and the applications are OS specific, other is specific for the user interface; the programmer has to modify only about 20% of the code of his S80 application, so he can get it working in the same OS version's UIQ user interface
  • there are approximately 2.5 million Symbian programmers in the world
  • programming for Symbian doesn't cost anything; all centric software development tools are free