LONDON, U.K. — Symbian may provide an operating system for what it calls the smart phone, but the company’s chief executive said Tuesday he is counting on dummies to drive the adoption of mobile applications.
keynote address to the sixth annual Symbian Expo, David Levin held up a small booklet that’s being distributed at the door of the two-day event. Titled “”Symbian Smartphones for Dummies,”” the 26-page guide to user interfaces and cell phone features joins the popular For Dummies series of reference books. Levin said the booklet comes at a time when the cellular industry has exploded to an estimated 500 million users worldwide. About 200 million phones will possess a hardware specification capable of running Symbian OS by 2008 or 2009, Levin said, which represents the addressable market the company will be chasing over the next five years. Symbian is a privately-held firm co-owned by several vendors, including Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung.
Besides better educating users, Levin said the challenge for Symbian is to drive adoption of its standardized platform into more of the wider device industry, which still relies for the most part on proprietary operating systems. To date, Symbian’s installed base has grown to 15 million, Levin said, with 10 licensees expected to develop 40 phones in the next 12-18 months.
“”If you put it in that larger perspective, our success at best is promising,”” he said.
As part of its growth strategy, Symbian on Tuesday announced that it will work with Intel Corp. to develop a reference platform for third-generation (3G) phones using its OS and the chipmaker’s XScale processor, which is built to consume less power while fitting into mobile devices. Levin said the agreement will reduce time to market for manufacturers by accelerating product development.
“”The first stage was proving this OS as a technology. This was virgin territory,”” he said. “”This kind of evolution will allow them to focus on those levels of the phone that will let them differentiate themselves and less on low-level integration.””
Sony Ericsson, the joint venture firm created more than a year ago, has invested more than £57.4 million (about $130 million) in Symbian because it believes in the idea of an open, independent OS, according to Sony Ericsson president Miles Flint. He said the company is counting on Symbian to facilitate joint efforts across the industry to provide new drivers, APIs and encourage application certification, while also helping vendors meet the requirements of network operators.
“”The proprietary OSes have been more long-lasting than what we might have thought in the early days of Symbian,”” Flint said, adding standardization could help offset the rising complexity that’s coming from a multiplicity of user interfaces. “”I think Symbian does need to take more of that ground.””
Cell phones have traditionally been treated as a consumer device, but this year’s Symbian Expo is developed around a theme of pushing smart phones into the enterprise. Flint pointed to a wealth of applications, including antivirus, virtual private network software and device managers for mobile phones that could ease fears in the enterprise where IT infrastructure is slower to respond to mobile users’ needs. “”The CIO can relax,”” Flint said.
Gary Cohen, general manager of IBM’s pervasive computing unit, said some enterprise IT executives are daunted by the questions mobility raises. These include decisions around who needs access, what kind of connectivity is available and how users will interact with the network. This is one of the reasons independent software vendors need to extend middleware to take advantage of mobile IT infrastructure, he said.
“”We need as an industry to start thinking of a diversity, not just of servers and OSes, but devices,”” Cohen said, adding that devices need to be connected to back-end services that are seamlessly integrated.
Cohen pointed to the U.S Military repair facility in Utah as an example of an enterprise which improved the operations by using mobile applications and phones to reroute drivers, speeding the delivery of parts to airplanes. “”These are simple ideas, but this industry is going to be changed by simple thoughts in large volumes,”” he said.
Vodaphone Group Services’ managing director of business Rene Schuster said Symbian’s challenges are the same faced by everyone else in the industry, from expensive solutions with a complex set-up and varying or incomplete feature sets. The nuances come in when you look at different customer segments, he said. While vendors might tailor user interfaces to different age groups to gain ground among consumers, businesses have different priorities.
“”In the enterprise, it’s going to focus on total cost of ownership, predictability and cost,”” he said.
Symbian is showing a number of enterprise applications at the conference, including IBM WebSphere Client Technology Micro Edition. On the hardware side, Nokia said it would be working with Symbian and Intel to bring smart phones to market using XScale on its Series 60 platform.