Despite the various battles that go on between Symbian and Microsoft in the boardrooms, there are obvious opportunities for the pair to work together. The wireless consortium recently inked a strategic deal with IBM and I asked Potter if he thought it was important for Symbian to strike something similar with Microsoft on for example, Exchange.
"Well these things are important and over the years there have been various business dealings with Microsoft, but in this space there's a need to establish standards and we will go out of our way to support those standards and of course is part and parcel of that area." What follows was agreed between Potter and ZDNet not to be printed until after Tuesday 22 February when an announcement would be made.
"As an example, there is something called SyncML which is being set up and is seeking to establish a standard. This is collaboration by a whole series of companies using (notably Microsoft was absent from this announcement) Symbian to establish standards which will facilitate being able to synchronise different files structures from a PC environment through a network in a mobile space or on a server... there are many examples. WAP is an example, and Bluetooth is another, GPRS and so on. Our purpose is to help establish these standards as much as we can.
Potter is keenly aware that there are voices in the industry suggesting the Symbian alliance is out only for its own benefit and took issue with the suggestion that, when the ball really starts rolling, it will behave in a way Microsoft is famed for: "A core strategic plaque of Symbian is to develop and facilitate standards. On the board we have the four biggest producers: Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, Matsushita and they all come together to agree these things. We want to work with the IT environment, not just the mobile phone environment and SyncML is a good example of that and there's many standards needed and why? Because of Metcalfe's law.
"Accessing these different environments from a variety of devices is vital here and that's why this whole issue is so very complex. There is a difference of view among our partners about the form factor these devices are going to take. So we have defined three and there could very well be four. They all have the same generic technology inside but different ergonomic forms:
"The Quartz project are pad-like (Potter does not like the term 'tablet device' as it conjures up images of Moses struggling down Mount Sinai with great rocks in his arms...) devices with pad screens but go online with voice as well over GPRS but on standard wide based networks (GSM). Pearl is the smartphone design. The category of smartphones and we don't provide the user interface for Pearl. The licensee implements the interface he wants on that device. We just supply the standard set and then support the manufacturer in the implementation they want: some may want to use a finger or a pen on a small or large screen.
"Another is the communicator type product, or Crystal project, and future versions of that. So you're not just getting one message here. Microsoft is saying this is the PC and everyone has to build just for that. Symbian has a more diverse form and this is really important for who is going to win."
This is important because Potter is betting on designers running all manner of wireless information devices in various guises, form factors and even with different user interfaces, all running with Epoc under the hood. Again, there is a striking difference in the ethos of this tactic when compared with Microsoft's CE strategy. Symbian, Epoc, it could well be completely invisible to the user. Use a Windows CE device and the logo will be right there on top of the screen.
"We will win because our hardware makers will be allowed to create a whole variety of devices and some will win and some won't, but the customer will decide in the end what the machine will look and feel like and what badge it will wear. We're forcing nothing."
I asked Potter why he thought Psion's presence in the PDA market has suffered so badly at the hands of its rivals and whether or not Symbian's position could ever be usurped by a rival. His response was typically candid.
"Well I think we should be completely clear here that that is all possible. That's part of the risk of business and so on, but that's also what makes this industry so challenging and interesting. I would not change this industry because it's so dynamic and I'm very glad I wasn't working for example in say the sugar industry."
Finally, with my hour gone, I asked Potter what his views were on getting people online, he was eager to take the lead and volunteered some insight on what needs to be understood by that other incumbent, British Telecom.
"Actually I have to say I agree with Gordon Brown on this, the local loop. The cost of access simply must be brought down and I sympathise with what Gordon Brown has said. We cannot afford as a nation to have an impediment, I mean you have zero cost [to get online] in the States. Of course he's right.
I'm not going to say British Telecom needs to do this or that, that's not my position, but there's a lot at stake here and it is clear that something needs to be done."