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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 00:46 GMT 01:46 UK
Symbian talks up the future of phones
The R380 Smartphone, Ericsson
Ericsson's R380 was one of the first Symbian smartphones
test hello test
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent
This should be the year that mobile phones get a great deal smarter.

Handset makers are due to release phones that can do much more than just make calls and send text messages.

Symbian is helping drive this move to make handsets more like tiny computers and able to handle video, music and graphics as easily as they handle voice calls today.

The company was established in 1998 by Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Psion with the task of taking the basic operating software in Psion's handheld computers and adapting it for phones.

Caught on camera

"About five years ago the phone makers realised they weren't going to keep on selling phones based on just size, price and battery life," said Symbian spokesman Paul Cockerton.

He said that to keep consumers interested phones had to be packed with ever more features and decided that the future belonged to phones fitted with cameras, media players and colour screens.

Psion handheld computer, BBC
Symbian grew out of handheld maker Psion
Symbian was needed to create the technological foundations for these improved phones.

At the moment, most phone makers have their own proprietary software running on their handsets. This can make it difficult for mobile network operators to sell services to all their customers at once.

Often, new services have to be tweaked to work with the idiosyncrasies of different handsets.

Mr Cockerton said the Symbian technology was freely shared with handset makers and software developers, making it much easier to create services that could reach large numbers of consumers.

Mr Cockerton said there were currently 10 Symbian projects under way at phone makers, many of which would lead to the creation of several different phones. By 2004, he expected up to half the phones of handset operator Nokia would be Symbian based.

Many of the new Symbian smart phones are due to make their debut this year.

In the summer, Nokia is expected to release its 7650 handset, which has a digital camera onboard that can take and send pictures to other phones.

Ericsson is also expected to unveil its P800 smartphone, which has a large colour touchscreen as well as a camera.

Competition time

Mr Cockerton acknowledged that it might take time to persuade people to upgrade to the new phones and longer to get them to subscribe to the services that use all their features, but he said handset makers were happy to gamble on their popularity.

The fact that Nokia was letting customers pre-order its 7650 camera-phone for about 190 showed they were serious about convincing consumers to upgrade, he said.

The 7650, Nokia
Nokia's 7650 has a camera and Symbian software
But at the same time that handset makers are smartening up their gadgets, the manufacturers of handheld computers such as Palm and Compaq are turning their devices into phones.

But Mr Cockerton is convinced that phones will prevail for one very simple reason: volume.

Over 400 million handsets were sold around the world in 2001; by contrast sales of handhelds or Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) barely topped 13 million, he said.

"I cannot see a lot of the PDA manufacturers existing in the way they do at the moment in 4-5 years time," he said. "And some are struggling already."

One company that is not struggling is Microsoft and many see it as Symbian's biggest rival because it has big ambitions for its own-brand phones and deep pockets to fund development.

"I would never say I'm not worried about them because they are a huge company," said Mr Cockerton, "but they are huge company that has no leverage in this market."

By contrast, he said, Symbian had investment funds from companies that together produce 70% of the world's handsets.

See also:

08 Aug 00 | Business
Psion to float Symbian
12 Jul 01 | UK
Sayonara Psion era
17 May 01 | New Media
Nokia develops mobile entertainment
18 Feb 00 | Microsoft
The mobile threat
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