Platform Pugilists

Microsoft and Symbian are vying for leadership in the smart-phone space. But will the competition encourage innovation or spur the kind of tactics found anti-competitive in the desktop OS environment?

After years of working to establish the smart phone as a viable platform, Microsoft Corp. and Symbian Ltd. seem to be garnering enough support to conduct an old-fashioned operating system war in a new frontier.

While some industry experts say competition in the space encourages innovation and carrier adoption, others say multiple standards in the space complicate the environment for third-party software developers. In addition, some fear competition could spur the kind of tactics found anti-competitive in the desktop operating system environment.

"The fight of the Internet age is now moving a little bit into the cellular arena. This is like the old Sun [Microsystems Inc.] versus Microsoft battle," said Orem Nissim, CEO of Telmap Ltd., in Herzilia, Israel. Telmap makes navigation applications for cell phones.

The London-based consortium Symbian has been the leader in the smart-phone niche with its Symbian OS, largely because of its lineage. Symbian, established as a private, independent company in June 1998, is owned by Samsung Electronics Co., Ericsson AB, Nokia Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic), Motorola Inc., Psion plc., Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB and Siemens Enterprise Networks LLC, all of which have announced various levels of product support for the platform.

Symbian OS gained additional support late last month when electronics manufacturer BenQ Corp. announced plans to develop handsets for 2.5- and third-generation wireless networks worldwide. The first Symbian OS product from BenQ is due in the third quarter, said officials at BenQ, in Taipei, Taiwan.

Meanwhile, London-based phone manufacturer Sendo Ltd. last month announced a developer program and testing service for a Symbian OS-based handset that the company plans to launch later this year. Sendo made waves in the smart-phone industry last fall when it announced it was switching camps from Microsofts Smartphone platform to Symbian OS. In December, Sendo sued Microsoft, charging misappropriation of trade secrets. Last month, Microsoft asked a federal court to dismiss the suit, but the case is still pending.

Microsoft, for its part, has been busy targeting carriers to garner support for its cell phone platforms. Late last month, the Redmond, Wash., software maker announced that Orange S.A. will be the first carrier to implement its Mobile2Market initiative, which helps carriers quickly offer a range of applications. With Mobile2Market, operators will be able to offer business users a means of quickly and easily reviewing Microsoft PowerPoint slides on mobile handsets, in addition to checking e-mail, using mapping technologies and playing video games.