Cold water poured on Intel's Symbian deal

Symbian Expo: 'Why would you choose a partner with a zero percent market share?' asks Texas Instruments
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
Chipmaker Texas Instruments (TI) has played down the importance to the smartphone market of Symbian's new alliance with Intel.

Speaking after Symbian chief executive David Levin had announced that the two companies were teaming up to develop a reference platform for 3G handsets running Nokia's Series 60, TI said that it had much more experience than Intel in the market.

Bryce Johnstone, marketing manager for TI's OMAP platform, pointed out that his company's chips are used to power 28 out of the 31 Symbian smartphones currently on the market. "It's a lot of work, developing a reference platform for phones. Even then, you're a long way from actually having a completed phone, and that's where the dollars are," Johnstone said.

Earlier in the day, Levin had declined to predict when the first Symbian smartphone based on Intel silicon would appear, other than to say that "it's not an 05 [2005] project".

"It can easily take 12 to 18 months just to get to a point where you can license the reference platform," one industry expert attending the Expo suggested.

A senior Symbian executive told ZDNet UK that the deal with Intel would create competition, resulting in cheaper prices for manufacturers, an important factor for Symbian. Levin said in his morning keynote that the company is now targeting the mid-range mobile market as well as the high-end market.

Johnstone, though, isn't convinced. "What market share does Intel have in the mid-range feature phone market today? Why would you team up with a company with a zero market share?" Johnstone said.

Intel was represented at the Symbian Expo, but no-one at the stand was able to answer questions about the Symbian deal.

Symbian's focus on the mid-market reflects the fact that the high-end smartphone market only represents around 10 percent of the market. Feature-rich phones, such as basic camera phones, make up an estimated 65 percent.

Dean Bubley, analyst at Disruptive Analysis, isn't convinced that Symbian will succeed in the mid-market. "Is there enough incremental value in the Series 60 platform, with its licence fee, royalty costs and testing, for a basic smartphone to be better than a top-end feature phone?" he asked.

"It's a question of coolness versus pragmatism," Bubley added, pointing out that Symbian's increased flexibility and functionality comes at a price. "It's hard to monetise coolness."

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