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Coming soon: Your mobile is on fire

What happens when your mobile phone decides to catch fire in your shirt pocket?

It's easy to sneer at notebook manufacturers while battery recalls seem to be a near-daily occurrence, but that's going to look like a minor issue if your mobile phone decides to catch fire in your shirt pocket.

Predicting such a scenario might not seem like the most commercially sound decision for a company whose apparent goal is to encourage the whole mobile phone market, but that didn't stop Symbian executive vice president for research David Wood from suggesting to a crowd of developers that a phone going up in flames is going to happen a lot sooner than we think.

Wood made his inflammatory forecast at Symbian's recent Smart Phone Show in London, an annual get together which seeks to attract coders to build mobile phone applications.

Symbian -- which is jointly owned by phone giants Ericsson, Nokia, Panasonic, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and Samsung -- claims to have 80 percent of the overall smart phone OS market, though that's less of an achievement when you consider that most people don't have a clue that their phone is even capable of running an operating system.

Outlining six 'horsemen of the apocalypse' challenges that could derail the smartphone market -- a list that, surprisingly, doesn't include the rubbish key pads most of them still sport -- Wood decided to give the prime position to the imminent risk of phone incineration.

"Laptops are already pushing power consumption to the limit," Wood said, blaming the recent spate of flaming notebooks on our insatiable demand for more processing power: "You can't just keep increasing the clock rate."

Having predicted that phones would become 10 times more powerful in the next five years, Wood was willing to embrace the inevitable horror scenarios that might produce.

"Smartphones are facing the same challenge," he said.

And while you'd hope that most people would notice a super-hot phone in their pocket before their crotch actually caught fire, coming up with a solution to the problem isn't perhaps as easy as with a traditional PC.

"There's no way we're going to put air-conditioning fans in smartphones," Wood noted.

Like a good Symbian mouthpiece, Wood suggested that a well-designed operating system provided the best chance of overcoming these power-related challenges. So far, Sony hasn't tried blaming multi-tasking Windows users for its spate of burning batteries, but at this point it could hardly make things worse.

For the record, the other apocalyptic challenges Wood suggested were too much software, malware and spam, arguments between phone companies and content providers, general greed and hubris. For our money, having our handset catch alight still sounds like a bigger problem.