Symbian digging its own grave with

Edit: Made correction to iPhone SDK price/added self-signed option

I have been recently involved in Symbian development. Unfortunately, I could say. Symbian has made the life of Symbian developers headacheful. The main problem is that the application signing is made unnecessary cumbersome. Getting a required developer certificate to just to run your one liner test code is a long road paved with curses, stress and ponder how a world class company can screw up things so badly.

I write this post to vent out the frustration. Hopefully someone picks up the feedback presented here. Personally, I don’t care anymore really. After explaining to the customer once “I am afraid that we cannot have the demo in this meeting, since we were unable to get the developer certificates in time. It was nice you did summon all of your executes, though.” my sympathy towards Symbian has fallen to zero.

In the long run, I believe, this will hurt Symbian when developers leave the platform. When this happens Symbian will miss 1) developer base 2) the wow value of all new cool things when hackers move to happier platforms – after all you don’t want to work with things causing a headache even if you are paid generously. Professional Symbian capable developers are already rare and scaring away the potential candidates (students, open source developers, freeware developers) won’t really help the matter. Of course, for us, who are already in the business, it’s good since we can raise our hourly fee and die as rich dinosaurs (remember COBOL).

Looks like the root problem is the cocky attitude: “We are the biggest mobile operating system in the world. You are not our customer, the biggest mobile phone brands are. Thus, you are an insignicant fly and we don’t need to listen to you. Please go away.” The big boys tell that this very same reason lead to Motorola’s fall from the number one mobile phone vendor position – so let’s see if the history is repeating itself.

The problems of Symbian development process, especially signing, are well known. Symbian Signed forum category has 120 000 views. Symbian signed support requests has 57 000 views and 2000 messages, since November 2007. Over a thousand support requests in four months. Symbian has money. It could fix the problem if it has will. If there is will in the organization and the work just does not progress, the corporate world has a simple solution: fire the management and hire capable responsible persons.

I won’t go the details of the problems in this post. I have prepared a post containing over 50 bulletins with detailed steps to get the developer certification process done and it lists every little mistake in Symbian Signed process. Unsurprisingly, the post mentions fuck and hell over twenty times, so I am reluctant to post it on our company site. So I sketched a manager comprehensible overview of the state of the process in this post. To justify my criticism, I compare Symbian to Apple iPhone and make some suggestion how to fix things.

Certificate costs

Symbian: 200$/1.5 years (you need a publisher id to get a developer certificate) + 20$ per signing round

Update: You can still make self-signing certificates yourself with limited capabilities (no GPS), but doesn’t bother to mention it.

Apple: 99$/year (for testing and distribution applications)

Suggestion: Make the developer certificate free. It used to be free, but based on this post, Symbian signed claims that they do not have enough CPU power, because of all kind of nasties are knocking their server. Come on! it’s Internet. You are hosted by Cidercone and by knowing how much they charge for the hosting I believe you can get every possible server power in the world to generate your keys.

This development start up cost automatically excludes third world people, freeware makers and students i.e. the future Symbian professionals. It’s hard to maintain a platform if there is not enough skilled people to work with it. There won’t be meat into Nokia’s and Sony-Ericsson’s innovation machines.

Development start lead time

How long it takes to get “Hello World” code to the phone.

Symbian: 8 workdays

Apple: 6 hours

Complete Guide to Symbian Signed guide (manual) is 20 pages PDF. How often you need a user manual to use a web site? Even with this page amount, the manual lacks crucial pieces of information which you need to hunt and ask help from the Symbian Signed support forums. I had to make 3 support request for Symbian Signed and 1 for TrustCenter.

Set-up process

Symbian: Create 3 user accounts (,, TrustCenter). Fax your passport and some signed papers to TrustCenter Germany. Wait when your request is manually processed. Ask TrustCenter what I do with the link they send me (hint: the only working web browser for their site is the very same browser you orignally submitted your application from). Convert TrustCenter key to Symbian specific format using obscure BAT tool. Use half-baked Windows EXE to generate files. Ask at the support forums permission to be allowed to create the Publisher id.

Apple: Download SDK. Click “I Agree.”

Symbiansigned management team must be either incomplete or inexistent, or they just hate their users. Looks like no one didn’t bother model or test this process, since the flaws are so apparent. Why do we need three user accounts? Why do we need a user account at all, isn’t my credit card payment enough? Why there can’t be a single web page on where I could do these all things without? Also, Symbian could do these things without third parties (TrustCenter) who are badly integrated to the process.

Web site and information reachability

Symbian: Two sites with different user accounts. Information is spread around and hidden behind various for registred users only pages. Often Symbian PDFs (yes they seem to prefer zipped PDFs) and web pages cross-link to other sites and these links are broken. Their internal site search engine does not give meaningful results. Google cannot search pages, since they are hidden behind the registration. Web forms don’t work. Navigation paths are unclear and you often need to guess where a certain piece of information could be.

Apple: One site – and it just works.

Why Symbian hides a crucial BAT tool in the page labyrinth of and behind login? Does the 100 lines of BAT code contains a very hidden trade secret? I doubt. (I also doubt that a BAT tool is a good way to solve a problem which could be fixed with a web form or Javascript, but that’s another matter.)

I think this is the part of the attidude problem. mission is not to “secure” the development and control the developers of the platform. It’s mission should be easily enable developers to start development and release their software for Symbian. The meaning of “easily” includes that the web site is working and up to the standards. Please hire a usability expert (we are here) and get it fixed. This problem is not solvable by writing yet-another user manual PDF.

Giving feedback

Symbian: Support like goes to the Symbian developer forum. A bulleting board with unorganized, angry, posts. They don’t give a feedback form to report the problems on Symbian Signed.

Apple: “There are three great ways to get answers to your questions about ADC membership, products, and services: visit our Frequently Asked Questions web pages, submit your questions or feedback using the form below, or call us to speak directly to a worldwide support agent. We look forward to assisting you.”

I’d help to get its site better if I could. When there is a broken link, I can hit feedback and ask them to fix it. But looks like they want to be ignorant about the matter – if I report a problem on their forum I bet no one will ever fix it. There won’t be even “thank you.” Probably no one ever reads my post. On the other hand, when having such non-functional service, this feedback channel would be flooded in overnight.


Symbian has unforgiveable screwed up with its signing process and doesn’t seem to get the feedback from the developers who suffer from it. Steve Ballmer’s famous quote “developers, developers, developers” refer to what’s the important factor making the platform succesfully in long term. This is especially crude when you know that things used to be good.

10 thoughts on “Symbian digging its own grave with

  1. Some very good points… however, one remark and one question is possibly in order from someone who has done commercial Symbian development for several years no:

    – First a genuine question: I haven’t looked deeply into the mechanics of iPhone app publishing, but my impression from recent articles was that you would still need to go through some “accreditation” process with Apple before you could actually release your applications to other people, and that would require a fee as well. This may only apply after you actually have completed your first application, but wouldn’t it have to be factored in as well?
    Also, the fact that you have to buy a machine with MacOS X could actually mean some expense for those of us with a PC, so speaking of “zero” cost is a bit misleading.

    – It is not entirely true that you *need* a Publisher ID to start developing for Symbian – as long as your application only uses “basic” capabilities (and that includes using the network, making phone calls etc.) you can use a self-signed certificate that you can just generate on your own machine, and install it with just an additional confirmation dialog on any handset, possibly after setting an option to allow unsigned installations.
    This is something that perhaps gets lost in many discussions about Symbian – of course some freeware apps (like RotateMe) actually need additional capabilities, but it is not like you couldn’t write games or even networked clients without ever visiting

  2. Thanks for feedback Markus.

    1) Naturally Apple will certificate applications when it’s released, but you don’t need *a developer certificate*.

    2) Didn’t the recent “Open Signed” stuff end self-signed certificates? front page does not mention publisher idless offline signing.

  3. The reason why self-signed certificates are not mentioned could be that they are completely unrelated to Symbian Signed from Symbian’s perspective:

    They are really just “dummy” signatures with virtually no security value, but they are still accepted by all S60 3rd Edition phones to grant the five Basic capabilities (LocalServices, ReadUserData, WriteUserData, NetworkServices, UserEnvironment) – this will already get you quite far, and we are in fact even releasing some of our commercial software with self-signed certificates only, to reduce the overhead for signing.

    Perhaps this is something that Symbian should be much clearer about?

  4. Marcus: Thank you for clarification. I fixed some misinformation I had. But you got the point when you say “they are completely unrelated to Symbian Signed.” Symbian Signed shouldn’t be looking things from their internal perspective, but from the perspective of Symbian developer. They do not seem to have whatsoever concept what their “customers”, developers, need.

  5. You have some good points, but failing a demo because a missing devcert? I’m sorry but I don’t buy that. I hope your customers did …

    I also believe that the guilt for the current Symbian Signed mess has to be split between Symbian & licensees on one side and developers on the other. Waining doesn’t compensate for reading the docs.

  6. Wow, what a disaster. I just got a Nokia E51 and I am trying to write some PyS60 code to get at some of the GSM location functions. What a disaster this digital signature business is! I have been at this for three days now just trying to understand the steps that I need to take in order to actually get this on to my phone! Normally, I’d just like to focus on writing the application.

    As a business, I cannot believe Symbian will keep operating as it is now, especially when Google’s Andrioid makes it’s apperance in the mainstream.

  7. Lucas: Saved by the emulator… 🙂 Your comment has a tone that you haven’t ever gone through the whole developer certificate application process yourself, have you? As I pointed out, everything having 20 pages doc and still doesn’t work is fatally flawed and waining is very justified.

  8. Another small comment regarding comparison to iPhone development… At the moment, you cannot install any application on iPhones at all unless you have been granted access to their developer program (or unless you’ve got a jailbroken iPhone). The developer program is currently limited to USA only, and even there nobody seems to be granted access. (See these notes: and ) Therefore, the Apple offering is simulator only in practice for the moment being, you can’t really compare them.

  9. Symbian, has limited developers by introducing CAPABILITY word. Licensing should be only required for the production release or distribution of application. Lots of SDKs are undocumented and are given when paid for support. Tools for development are also in evaluation, eats time like anything in getting things to work. Signing complexities and turn around time does matters.

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