Will Your Next Phone Speak Symbian?

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (02/16/2000) - As Windows CE and Palm duke it out to run handhelds everywhere, Symbian Ltd. wants to make our Web-enabled smart phones smarter by running its EPOC operating system.

Formerly the voice division of handheld device maker Psion PLC, Symbian is now a joint venture of Psion, Nokia Corp., L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co., Motorola Inc. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. At the Symbian Developers Show here this week, Symbian and its partners are previewing how the platform could help data-enabled handsets really take off.

"People want to access information anywhere, anytime," says Colly Myers, Symbian's chief executive officer. "But their requirements to do this are many and varied."

Talk or Type, Your Choice

The Symbian platform supports both voice and data communications. It can run on smart phones, data-capable programmable mobile phones, and communicators (devices with larger displays that manage more data), Myers says.

Symbian has licensed the EPOC operating system data communication devices since 1997, says Paul Cockerton, manager of Symbian's corporate communications group.

The OS has drawn interest in Europe but has been slow to the U.S. market.

Ericsson plans to be the first to ship a Web-enabled Symbian phone in the United States. It expects to release a Symbian-powered Web-enabled phone, the R380, in the third quarter, as well as a communicator device. Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, and Panasonic plan similar products within a year. They're taking the time to meet the standards still being set and to ensure a selection of services and applications.

As a joint venture, Symbian pools Psion's EPOC OS with technology and mobile phone market know-how from the other partners, which collectively produce 80 percent of the handsets in use. Together, they're developing a standard wireless system in the Symbian platform.

"We'll work together to create a common end user experience to create standards and then compete fiercely with products," Myers says.

Juggling and Complementing Standards

IBM Corp. is helping Symbian develop infrastructure technologies to support financial transactions and other wireless tasks that require security.

"We're helping wireless service providers to offer financial services, travel, and retail applications," says Mark Bregman, general manager of IBM's pervasive computing group.

Already, IBM provides the technology so you can use your Palm to buy goods from grocery chain Safeway and from PlanetRX. With Symbian, IBM is contributing database and message-queuing software to help guarantee transactions even if you lose your phone connection just as you're buying a hot Internet stock.

The Symbian platform supports existing standards, including the Wireless Application Protocol designed for small form factors like phones; and Bluetooth, a low-power interdevice wireless communications standard. Symbian is working with Sun to also support Java so EPOC can run Java applications, Myers says. Symbian also supports multimedia technologies for wirelessly streaming audio and video.

An advantage of the Symbian platform standard is that if you can operate one Symbian-powered phone, you'll know how to use another. Yet it also inspires greater variance in device design, Myers suggests.

"Some [people] will want one all-encompassing device while others will want two or even three devices linked by Bluetooth," Myers says.

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