Symbian eyes up the MIPS chips

Wireless group suggests possible deal for Symbian devices
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor on

ZDNet UK News has received information that Symbian may be set to cut a deal with MIPS Technologies. The consortium -- which is aiming to create a common platform for wireless information devices based on Psion's (quote: PON) Epoc operating system -- doesn't have any products out yet. But Psion founder David Potter recently hinted to us that when those products arrive, they might use MIPS technology.

Industry observers say ARM Holdings (quote: ARM), whose RISC chips power the Psion handheld device, will probably also supply processors for Symbian devices. The consortium last October also agreed to port Epoc to Motorola's M-CORE RISC processor architecture when Motorola became a Symbian shareholder. But Symbian will likely keep a tight rein on which other processors run Epoc.

Until more is officially announced, the chip situation will remain murky. But MIPS is one company Potter mentioned as a candidate for the Symbian platform. "There's absolutely no reason why [Symbian] can't do an implementation with MIPS," he said.

Potter said there is already an implementation of Epoc on a non-ARM processor, though he did not clarify whether this was the Motorola chip. But he was quick to dispel any misconceptions about Psion's relationship with ARM: "There will be more [implementations] if the market warrants it. But the fact of the matter is that ARM has a substantial part of this section of the industry."

One chip that isn't in the running -- at least not yet -- seems to be Crusoe, the much-hyped new mobile chip from Transmeta. Crusoe is aimed at portable devices that need to run full-scale Windows-style applications, such as Web pads, and is not currently targeting organisers or mobile phones. Potter said he couldn't give a definitive answer, "because I just don't know enough about the Crusoe chip".

MIPS, based in California, licenses RISC-based processor core technology. The company recently stepped up its competition with ARM by announcing it will open a European headquarters in Swindon. The move is intended to help MIPS better understand and address the European market, which has different drivers than the US -- especially in the mobile phone and handheld device area.

Symbian's founding members are Psion, Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola, and the group has deals with NTT DoCoMo, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Sybase.

MIPS Technologies can be reached at www.mips.com. ARM can be reached at www.arm.com. Psion can be reached at www.psion.com. Symbian can be reached at www.symbian.com.

Richard Barry contributed to this report.

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