6 October 2004 Symbian, the European mobile phone operating system company spun out of UK device maker Psion, has announced an alliance with chip giant Intel to develop a reference platform for third-generation mobile phones.
The move represents a significant change of direction for the mobile operating system developer. At present, around 85% of the five million Symbian phones shipped in the first half of this year were based on Texas Instruments’ OMAP Processor platform.
Speaking at the Symbian Expo in London this week, David Levin, the CEO of Symbian, said the move will enable handset manufacturers to develop 3G smart phones based on Symbian’s Series 60 interface.
Symbian believes the move will help it grab a significant share of emerging market for smart phones. Levin expects that 200 million smart phones able to run an open operating system will be sold over the next four to five years.
“This will reduce the time it takes licensees to get a handset to market, and it will reduce their development costs,” he said. “This is critical for manufacturers. This evolution will let them focus their development work on areas of the phone that will differentiate it in the marketplace, and let them move away from worrying about the plumbing side”.
At present, Symbian phones account for only a tiny fraction of the overall mobile market, although growth of the smart phones has been rapid. Two million were shipped in 2002, rising to 6.7 million in 2003 and more than 10 million forecast in 2004.
Symbian is the leader in the smart phone operating systems, with a 41% share, compared to second-placed Microsoft whose mobile OS holds 23%.
Describing growth to date as “one hell of an achievement” Levin said the operating system has the potential to increase its sales exponentially. “We’re just getting started,” he said “The market we are targeting is the 200 million smart phones that could run and benefit from an open OS over the next four to five years. The market is promising but it’s early days.”
Also speaking at the Expo was Miles Flint, president of Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, which recently invested £57.4m in the open OS company. Flint said Symbian needs to find a way to take more of the ground occupied by Microsoft’s proprietary OS.
Flint also said that he would like to see the company making more of its international presence. “We would like to see Symbian with stronger position in the American market than perhaps it has today,” he said.