Symbian smartphone shipments surge

The software maker, poised to become one of the dominant forces in next-generation mobile phones, has said the number of Symbian-powered handsets shipping is up nearly four times on last year

Symbian's licensees shipped nearly four million high-end mobile phones running the company's operating system during the third quarter of this year, which ended on 30 September, the company said on Thursday -- nearly quadrupling last year's figures.

However, Symbian's turnover has declined from the second quarter of the year, due partly to the structure of its royalties, which decline with greater volumes of units shipped. These financial results are unaudited, as the firm is privately held by mobile phone companies and by UK computer maker Psion.

"Symbian has continued to make good progress in Q3 2003," said Symbian chief executive David Levin, in a statement. "At the end of Q3 2003, ten phones from four Symbian OS licensees were shipping worldwide."

The company's operating system, with backing from nearly all the major mobile phone makers, is poised to become one of the major platforms in next-generation smartphones along with competitors such as Microsoft, Linux and PalmSource. Smartphones, which combine handheld computer-like features with conventional mobile phones, as yet only make up a small portion of the huge worldwide mobile market, but shipments are already approaching those of conventional PDAs.

The company's licensees, including Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, Siemens and others, shipped 3.91 million Symbian OS handsets through September of this year, compared with 1.02 million units in the same period last year. The third quarter saw 1.23 million units shipped, the third consecutive quarter in which shipments have exceeded one million units, Symbian said.

The company saw a decline in its average royalty per handset, from $6.3 (£4) in the second quarter of 2003 to $5.7 in the third quarter, partly because licensees' royalties drop substantially after they ship two million units.

Symbian licensees have begun devoting more resources to Symbian devices over the past year. In Q3 there were 31 devices in development, compared with 16 the same quarter last year, Symbian said. Nine companies are actively developing Symbian products.

The company has powerful allies in its plan to dominate the smartphone industry, with most licensees taking a stake in the firm. However, critics have claimed that Nokia, the No. 1 handset maker, has gained too much control over the software company.

Earlier this month the UK's The Business weekly newspaper reported that Nokia is considering snapping up Psion, citing "an industry source with knowledge of Nokia's plans". The acquisition would give Nokia much greater control over Symbian than other stakeholders. Psion originally developed the Symbian OS for its handheld devices, under the name EPOC. Nokia has declined to comment on this rumour.