Touching All Bases

Symbian woos enterprise-and mass-market-customers.

While cell phone operating system developer Symbian Ltd. is courting corporate customers with new partnerships and applications, the company eschews the idea of phones that cater to the enterprise to the exclusion of the mass market.

At its Exposium conference last week, the London consortium announced an advisory council comprising major corporate software companies and an upgraded version of its operating system.

The Symbian Enterprise Advisory Council consists of several companies that have agreed to work on compatibility between Symbian-based phones and the companies respective enterprise software applications.

Member companies include Accenture Ltd., Adobe Systems Inc., Borland Software Corp., Cap Gemini Ernst and Young Group, Extended Systems Inc., iAnywhere Solutions Inc., Metrowerks, Oracle Corp., SAP AG, Synchrologic Inc., and XcelleNet Inc.

That said, Symbian officials said that while the operating system is designed for feature-rich phones for cash-rich customers, they dont want to see the operating system or the phones that run it pigeonholed as a corporate solution.

"We have to be cautious about the enterprise activity," said Symbian CEO David Levin. "Its too expensive to build a phone exclusively for the enterprise, as the enterprise markets are still too small. The development cost for the average phone is between $30 and $40 million. In order for manufacturers to make money, they must sell them in the millions."

Symbian, a consortium established as a private, independent company in 1998, is owned by Ericsson AB, Nokia Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic), Motorola Inc., Psion plc., Siemens Enterprise Networks LLC, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications Inc. and, most recently, Samsung Electronics.

Only a handful of Symbian phones are shipping, but there are at least 21 in development, Levin said.

The first Symbian phone appeared in 2001, but sales didnt start picking up until the end of last year, and they still have a long way to go compared with the cell phone market as a whole. There were 147,000 Symbian phones sold in the first quarter of last year, and 1.18 million units sold in the first quarter of this year.

"Given the unit sales that weve got right now, the principal challenge is to get the licensees to convert from their proprietary operating systems to our open platform," said Levin.

To that end, Motorola has integrated Symbian into its i.Smart reference design for next-generation phones. The Schaumburg, Ill., company, which plans to launch its own Symbian phone later this year, demonstrated its platform at Exposium.

"Its a lot easier for parties to develop and port their applications to that environment," said Findlay Shearer, an engineer at Motorola.

Meanwhile, Symbian has unveiled the next version of its operating system. (Most Symbian phones on the market run Version 6.1.)

Symbian OS Version 7.0s is due to start appearing in devices by the end of the year, officials said.

The upgrade improves on previous releases with increased telephony, multimedia and foreign language support, as well as enhanced support for Java.

Symbian OS 7.0s uses multiple PDP (Packet Data Protocol) contexts and adds a QOS (quality-of-service) framework, Symbian officials said.

Basically, supporting more than one PDP context at a time means owners of Symbian phones can use more than one network service at a time, and with varying QOS—receiving e-mail while simultaneously downloading an application, for instance. For carriers, this means multiple revenue streams and charging models for a single handset.

The new version includes a multithreaded multimedia framework, which improves the performance of audio and video applications that have become par for the course in high-end phones. Symbian OS 7.0s adds support for Arabic, Hebrew and Thai characters.