Symbian said on Monday that it has signed up Samsung as the latest licensee for its smartphone operating system, just a day before Orange unveils the first smartphone based on Microsoft's competing software.
The agreement comes at a good time for Symbian, with shipments of Nokia's Symbian OS-based 7650 handset boosting the operating system above rivals such as Palm OS and Pocket PC in the European marketplace for the third quarter.
Samsung licensed the software to use on 2.5G and 3G handsets worldwide, using the Series 60 interface licensed from Nokia last month. Series 60 and the Symbian OS are also used in Nokia's own 7650 camera-phone, and have been widely licensed to other handset makers. Sony Ericsson is to launch its own Symbian-based mobile phone later this year, the P800, which uses a pen-based interface.
The deal means that the top five handset makers all license the Symbian OS, although the licences are not exclusive. Samsung itself is one of the few licensees of Microsoft's Smartphone 2002 operating system, and Siemens once licensed the software, although it has fallen quiet about its Smartphone 2002 plans recently.
Symbian said that the slowdown in mobile phone sales in Western countries could actually be just the right environment for Symbian smartphones to succeed. "Symbian OS phones are mid-tier and upper-tier phones, and in a replacement market such as in Europe people are looking to trade up to more sophisticated products," said Peter Bancroft, Symbian's vice president of communications. "(The slowdown) is less of an issue for us than it would be for other phone manufacturers."
Symbian's biggest licensees are Nokia, SonyEricsson, Siemens, Samsung and Motorola, which together ship 80 percent of the world's mobile phones, according to Symbian.
At the moment Nokia is shipping the first mass-market Symbian OS product, the 7650, which gave Symbian 57 percent of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) market share for mobile devices in the third quarter, according to new research from Canalys. Nokia is also planning the 3650 for next year, a Symbian device aimed at the youth market that will carry a lower price tag.
The rival in Redmond
Microsoft's smartphone strategy emphasises Microsoft's own brand and that of network operator, treating the handset hardware as a commodity -- much as in the PC market -- and as such is less attractive to the large, established mobile phone makers. Smartphone 2002 licensees have thus tended to be commodity hardware makers who are less interested in pushing their own brands. On Tuesday, for example, UK mobile phone operator Orange will unveil a handset code-named "Canary", which will be the first to run on Smartphone 2002. The handset is made by Taiwan's High-Tech Computing (HTC), makers of the xda smartphone sold by O2. The UK's Sendo has long had a Smartphone 2002 handset in development, but when this arrives it will also be likely to bear the brand of individual network operators. Symbian licensees, on the other hand, stick with their own branding along with that of the network operator.