Symbian checks into executive class

CIOs are the smartphone company's next targets, as it looks to break out of a narrow geographical focus

While Symbian has made no secret of its desire to become a mid-tier player, the company now has chief information officers on its hit list, according to the mobile OS company's chief executive Nigel Clifford.

Still, Symbian's traditional business — supplying operating systems for high-end smartphones — is serving it adequately, as it on Tuesday celebrated shipping the 100th model to carry its OS.

The company also unveiled its first quarter results, showing year-on-year growth of 73 per cent with more than 11 million devices shipped.

According to Clifford, Japan has been driving growth, with sales increasing threefold.

Dr Richard Windsor, analyst at Nomura International, predicted figures for the full year could easily top 49 million, more than 10 million more than in 2004. Windsor said, however, that Symbian may have all its eggs in two baskets.

He said: "The problem is that if you take out Japan and you take out Nokia, then no one else is doing hardly anything. That's always been the problem — Symbian seems proprietary to Nokia."

Outside of its strongholds in EMEA and Japan, Symbian has also started to make strides in the Chinese market, which is expected to be one of the main cash-cows in the coming years.

Windsor said: "The [Chinese] market is exploding. It's interesting that there is a burgeoning middle class where the smart phone is aspirational; it's seen as a business tool in the absence of a mobilised laptop."

According to Canalys, Symbian has 62 percent smartphone market share in what could eventually become a billion-device nation.

To Clifford, however, gaining market share in the global mid-tier — rather than boosting smartphones in particular geographies — remains the focus.

He said: "The bigger game is not talking about 16 million [Chinese] handsets — the bigger game is one billion [mid-tier] handsets." To that end, Symbian still has its eye on cornering cheaper devices, Clifford maintains. "That's where the bigger gains are going to come from, not trying to nickel and dime up one per cent here and one per cent there."

It's something Symbian has been saying since the days of former chief executive David Levin, who left last May. However, with two mid-range Nokia models — the 3250 and 5500 — just out of the stable, Clifford is expecting the mid-tier dream to start to be realised in the next couple of quarters.

Similarly, Clifford believes the company will start to make its enterprise presence felt over the coming six months.

He said: "We haven't been making a lot of noise... It's a part of having the portfolio to talk about. We've been reasonably restricted."

While some research predicts Symbian may start to see its market share slip, as Microsoft turns up the heat on the smart phone OS market, Clifford believes Symbian's open OS will enable it to see off Redmond.

He said: "Our device manufacturer partners are comfortable with us... We're independent of any brand ambition."