Symbian smartens up against MS

Announcements from Nokia and Ericsson give Symbian ammunition to battle Microsoft for the smartphone market

Symbian this month struck the first major blow in the battle for the hearts and minds of smartphone users. But will the first blow matter when the battle is over?

Symbian and Microsoft are long-time rivals in the smartphone market, although no phones using either platform have been released in the United States. Announcements earlier this month by Ericsson and Nokia were the first signs that products would support the Symbian platform.

Ericsson's R380 phone is already available in Europe. Nokia's announcement focused on its 9210 Communicator, which is expected in the United States during the first half of 2001.

Both announcements give credibility to a platform that has been strong on potential but weak on execution in spite of industry support from the likes of Motorola, Psion, and Panasonic. All of them, plus Nokia and Ericsson, are shareholders in privately-owned Symbian.

Microsoft has made headway in Asia and Europe with feature phones and glimpses of its prototype Stinger smartphones in the United States. Still, the Stinger isn't expected to arrive on US shores until late 2001.

"The announcements are a good head start for Symbian, especially in Europe and Asia where Symbian and Epoc [the OS used by the Symbian smartphones] are familiar and where people are wild about phones," said IDC analyst Kevin Burden. "But it's not clear how Epoc will fare with Americans, who tend to gravitate towards something more familiar, such as [Microsoft's] Stinger and Palm."

Regardless, Burden said the new phones are a starting point. And the future for devices that combine PDAs and cellular phones looks very bright: ten licensees have already been announced, another is on the way by the end of the year, and several more are expected within the next six months.

"From a technical standpoint, we've been baptised by the mobile computing industry," said Paul Cockerton, head of marketing communications at Symbian. "And, while our presence in the States has not been very noisy, it should be louder as more devices begin to roll out."

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney expects Symbian to take 30 to 35 percent of the smartphone market by 2003 simply because the Symbian platform will be in phones from companies that consumers are already familiar with, such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Symbian's other licensees.

Dulaney expects Microsoft to claim about 15 percent of the market. Samsung is the only announced licensee of the Microsoft Stinger platform, but a deal with Sony may be on the horizon.

Gartner projects that smartphones will make up 10 to 15 percent of the overall cell phone market by 2003.

Symbian and Microsoft are competing for a market that IDC estimates will grow from 2.2 million shipments worldwide in 2001 to 21.6 million by 2004. The US market is expected to grow from 693,000 to 8.1 million from 2002 to 2004.

The Palm OS is also expected to be a contender in the smartphone market with its support for the Kyocera QCP 6035 phone, which was announced on Monday. The QCP, expected to cost $500, will be available in the first quarter of 2001.

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