Symbian OS upgrade aims at mass market

3GSM: This year could see the introduction of the first mid-range mobile phones using Symbian's smartphone software, spurred by the introduction of OS 8.0

UK-based mobile software maker Symbian has introduced the next generation of its smartphone operating system, version 8.0, with tweaks aimed at extending the Symbian OS into lower-cost handsets.

The new OS will arrive with an expanded offering from Symbian's UIQ subsidiary, which makes user interface software. UIQ 3.0 will include a version for use without a stylus, bringing UIQ into direct competition with Series 60, the Symbian user-interface software Nokia has successfully licensed to a number of phone makers.

At the same time, two Symbian licensees formally launched handsets, the Motorola A1000 3G phone and the Panasonic X700, both due to ship this autumn. All the announcements were made at this week's 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, France.

Symbian is backed by most major handset makers, who also license its software for smartphones that add handheld computer-like features to mobile phones. Success at shipping Symbian-based handsets has been recently tempered by controversy over a bid by Nokia to gain a majority stake in the company. Microsoft and PalmSource also make smartphone operating systems, while several companies including Motorola are using mobile flavours of Linux.

A major change in Symbian OS 8.0 is the addition of real-time capabilities, which allow phone makers to use the software in lower-cost handsets. Current Symbian OS versions require a separate application processor, and are not suitable for the integrated chips -- combining both application-processing and telephony -- used in conventional mobile phones.

The software has an improved device management framework for remote device management and configuration, a feature which could be useful to enterprises with large numbers of handsets. It is also designed to allow network operators to more easily deploy software changes to customers.

Other tweaks allow handset makers to integrate graphics acceleration hardware and Secure Digital memory cards, and improve Java compatibility and performance.

Symbian has already begun delivering the software to vendors, and said phones based on the software will be announced later this year.

The pen is mightier than...
UIQ Technology, a Symbian subsidiary, said version 3.0 of the UIQ Platform, based on Symbian OS 8.0, would be available in the fourth quarter of this year, with handsets shipping in 2005. A major selling point will be that licensees can recycle the user interface code to make phones designed for pen-based, touch-screen or one-handed operation, UIQ said.

"UIQ 3.0 is a platform that offers the framework and the tools to innovate and create highly differentiated smartphones -- with one software base, without duplicating engineering effort -- ultimately maximising return on investment for our licensees," said UIQ chief executive Johan Sandberg, in a statement.

That strategy puts UIQ into competition with Nokia, which owns the Series 60 user interface, a "one-handed" interface designed to make Symbian software accessible entirely through a standard mobile phone keypad. Earlier versions of UIQ, such as that used in Sony Ericsson's P900, allow some features to be accessed through a keypad, while others must be accessed with a stylus.

UIQ 3.0 could also be attractive to application providers, which currently must adapt software for use with Series 60 or UIQ. Vendors could find it simpler to tailor applications for various flavours of UIQ, while more effort would be required to support Series 60.

UIQ is currently used in Sony Ericsson's P900 and P800 smartphones, BenQ's P30 and Motorola's A920, A925 and A1000 3G phones, while Series 60 is used by far more vendors, including Nokia, Sendo, Samsung, Siemens, Panasonic and Motorola.

New handsets
The new handsets from Motorola and Panasonic include such features as Bluetooth, the ability to read and edit Microsoft Office documents, and high-resolution cameras. The Motorola A1000 is Motorola's third Symbian OS phone, and includes virtual private network (VPN) support and 3G videoconferencing. Panasonic's clamshell X700 supports MiniSD cards and is the smallest Symbian handset on the market, according to Symbian.

The A1000 uses the UIQ pen-based interface, while the X700 is based on Nokia's Series 60.