Symbian boosts security and enterprise apps

Symbian OS v9 should power smartphones with better functionality, and more powerful protection against viruses
Written by Jo Best, Contributor and  Graeme Wearden, Contributor
Symbian launched the latest version of its smartphone operating system on Wednesday, promising stronger security, more customisation and enhancements for enterprise customers.

Phones based on OS v9 are expected to launch in the second half of this year, and Symbian is hoping that this new operating system will help it to crack the mass market.

Peter Bancroft, Symbian's vice-president of market communications, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday morning that OS v9 would help manufacturers to create more specialised devices for niche groups, such as mobile workers, gamers or people keen on multimedia services.

Symbian wasn't able to release any details of forthcoming OS v9 phones, but it's possible that this could include the first Symbian phones based on Intel chips.

In October 2004, Intel announced that it was developing a reference platform for Symbian 3G phones. Bancroft confirmed on Wednesday that Intel's reference platform was compatible with OS v9.

While operators might be considering segmenting their phones to cater to ever more niche markets, that won't automatically mean a whole flood of new user interfaces hitting the market alongside, according to the software maker.

Bancroft believes it is unlikely that many new user interfaces will emerge, given the expense and research and development time needed, but said: "Who knows what the market will come up with?"

OS v9 contains device management facilities that Symbian claims will make it much easier for mobile operators and IT staff to manage phones remotely. It will allow them to diagnose problems over the air, to install new applications and to audit the applications installed on the phone.

"It's great to be able to deploy phones with more functionality, but the difficulty is this can generate greater support costs," said Bancroft.

Other enterprise-friendly enhancements include better support for Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), which allows mobile devices access email more efficiently. OS v9 will also let mobile workers use the group scheduling features in Lotus Notes and Outlook, for example to accept meeting requests remotely.

Symbian OS v9 isn't binary compatible with previous versions of the operating system, so the vast majority of existing applications will need to be adapted to work on it. While this means work for developers to port their applications to the new version, Symbian believes that the increase in security this brings makes it worth it.

The security makeover in the Symbian OS v9 is aimed at protecting your handheld and the data stored on it. In order to stop malware along the lines of the Cabir virus, OS v9 will restrict an application's ability to access data and services it shouldn't, based on a digital signature. The OS gives and withholds permission from applications to access "sensitive" capabilities, including making a call or web connection, or accessing personal information. Each application's signature will specify what features it's allowed to use, and no others will be permitted. Another feature called Data Caging prevents one application accessing the data of another.

"You don't want an application that says one thing and does another -- that's what Trojans do," said Bancroft.

The infection methods used by viruses haven't proved a threat so far, according to Bancroft. "There just aren't enough phones and Bluetooth doesn't extend far enough," he added.

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