Nokia said Wednesday that it would hand off all future development and support for its Symbian mobile operating system to a third party and cut 7,000 related jobs as part of its plan to adopt Microsoft's Windows Phone as the primary OS for its smartphone products.
"At Nokia, we have new clarity around our path forward, which is focused on our leadership across smart devices, mobile phones, and future disruptions," said Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, in a statement.
"However, with this new focus, we also will face reductions in our workforce. This is a difficult reality, and we are working closely with our employees and partners to identify long-term reemployment programs for the talented people of Nokia," said Elop.
About 3,000 of the 7,000 workers Nokia will cut will be transferred to outsourcer Accenture, which assumes development and support responsibility for Symbian, still the world's most widely deployed mobile OS as of last year, according to Gartner. Accenture also becomes the primary service provider for Nokia's Windows Phone efforts. Financial terms were not revealed.
"This collaboration with Nokia will enhance our ability to help clients across multiple industries leverage mobility to advance their business agendas," said Marty Cole, chief executive for Accenture's Communications and High-Tech group, in a statement.
What's not clear is the future of Symbian, and Symbian-based devices. As recently as two weeks ago, Nokia unveiled two new Symbian-based phones, the E6 and the X7. The E6 is specifically aimed at business users and features direct integration with Microsoft Exchange, Communicator, and SharePoint. In March, Nokia released the Symbian-based Astound, on T-Mobile, in the U.S. market.
But the chances that enterprises, particularly those in Europe, where Symbian is most popular, will commit to a platform whose future is in doubt are virtually zero. And Nokia itself has sent mixed messages. Its official position is that Windows Phone 7 will be the backbone of its smartphone strategy, while Symbian will continue to play a role in its lineup of less sophisticated feature phones—particularly for emerging markets.
However, Nokia already has its in-house Nokia OS (NOS) for low-cost segments, and many observers expect Symbian will be phased out completely within a year or two.
Accenture said that the employees it takes in from Nokia, mostly from China, Finland, India, the UK, and the U.S., will work on Symbian projects only initially, and would be retrained and redeployed "over time." At the very least, those workers, depending on which part of Nokia's operations they are mainly culled from, could provide the outsourcer with a valuable pool of top end mobile programming talent for Windows Phone and other projects.
The bulk of Nokia's C++ team for Symbian was based in London, while those doing less intensive GUI work were dispersed around the world. Windows Phone is built on Microsoft's C# programming language, but it's not considered particularly difficult for programmers to move from C++ to C#.
As for the numerous enterprises that have built business applications around Symbian, it's expected that Nokia will look to aggressively migrate those users to the Windows Phone 7 architecture. Nokia has said it will ship Windows Phone 7 devices "in volume" starting next year.