How Symbian Plans to Stay No. 1

Q&A: Symbian research chief David Wood talks to eWEEK about the company's challenges and opportunities.

LONDON—Symbian is the leading developer of smart phone operating systems and is intent on keeping its lead. A key part of maintaining that lead falls under the purview of David Wood, executive vice president of research at the company, based here.

Wood sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft at the Symbian Smartphone Show here to discuss his role and some of Symbians strategies.

You guys recently, at the end of August, opened an R&D site in Beijing. Whats the focus of that? What do you expect to gain from that?

Well, its a place where there are lots of bright software engineers, and we have a need to grow our software engineering capacity. We have a large team in the UK; we have a large team in Bangalore; and we wanted to grow elsewhere. So we looked around the world and we thought Beijing was a place with lots and lots of bright people.

Its also close to various partners of ours. We have a close relationship with China Mobile already. And its gone very well. Weve also already signed up six different universities in China to our Symbian Academy.

What to you think you need to do to make the Symbian OS or the overall platform more amenable to the enterprise?

We think weve got a pretty good enterprise story, if you look at. For example, some of the Nokia phones—like the E61. It does the most important enterprise app, which is corporate e-mail. Ive actually got the BlackBerry client on mine. I have BlackBerry messages and this also uses the BlackBerry services to synchronize my calendar. So that is in some ways the most important corporate application.

Although you can argue that maybe theres one thats more important, which is unifying voice. By unifying voice I mean that I dont have one number for this phone and another number for my desk phone, but that you can have mobile phones as an integral part of an enterprise PBX. So when somebody rings my desk phone it automatically rings up on here. And it automatically chooses the least-cost routing. And in-house were trialing a solution from Avaya.

So there are two enterprise services that were doing well. Another enterprise application is access to corporate wikis or corporate intranets. And as the browsers on these devices get better and better, then suddenly you dont always need to write new applications. You can just go point to point with these devices.

So when Im traveling I often go onto our corporate research wiki through a secure interface and I can see what they are doing and I can also post comments there.

I noticed that the description of your keynote said you plan to talk about enhancing scalability in the converged device space, what do you mean by that?

Scalability means that we work with the very high-end phones, the ones that have oodles and oodles of hardware in them—a bit like the Apple iPhone, right down to… Lets use the right term here, we shouldnt call them inexpensive phones, but the mainstream phones—the phones that ordinary people would use; phones that can be bought much more cheaply.


Click here to read more about Symbian smart phone features.

We have a software system that will automatically take advantage of the graphics processing unit if there is one. Or a hardware accelerator if there is one. But if there isnt one well still give good results.

So, hypothetically, if Google were to come out with a phone platform do you see you guys supporting it?

Well, if this is all, as you say, hypothetical, we would say Google, like BlackBerry, or RIM [Research in Motion],, would like to have their services running very well on Symbian phones. So BlackBerry, as an alternative phone system with devices that are competitive to ours because they have a different operating system… They also want their services to run on as many Symbian smart phones as possible. So I think it will be the same with Google.

If they do, hypothetically, have their own operating system they will still want their services to run excellently well on Symbian phones. And I know it. Just today they made an announcement that theres a native version of Google Maps on the Symbian OS.

So Google is showing a commitment. Thats an example of Google bringing their services on these phones. Why do they want them on these phones? Well, typically people who buy smart phones use data services more fully.

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