Symbian to unveil multimedia cell phones

Handset that shows streamed multimedia set to debut at Symbian's first U.S. show.
Written by Andrew Orlowski, Contributor
The Symbian consortium is set to unveil two new classes of Internet-smart cellular phones that stream multimedia content.

Symbian -- the consortium of cellular manufacturers Nokia (NYSE: NOK.A), Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY), Motorola (NYSE: MOT), Matsushita and Psion Software -- will demo "Quartz," a color tablet-style device that shows streaming multimedia over existing GSM phoneworks, and "Crystal," a more PDA-like handset, at the Symbian Developer Conference and Exhibition, which starts Tuesday in Santa Clara, Calif.

A third Symbian device, code-named Pearl, will not be shown. The BBC, meanwhile, has already begun working with Ericsson to deliver content to the Quartz device.

Quartz, Crystal and Pearl will all use Release 6 of the EPOC operating system. Symbian is also expected to update its Java support and plug several gaps, including IMAP support, in the package. The consortium claims that the number of registered EPOC developers has exceeded 20,000, up from 1,200 at the time of Britain's Symbian Developers Conference in June 1999.

In a keynote, CDMA flag-bearer Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM), which withdrew from manufacturing handsets last year, is expected to give details of CDMA chip sets optimized for EPOC.

The initial trickle of EPOC devices, led by Ericsson's R380 smartphone, is expected to soon become a flood, with more than 30 devices available in the next 12 to 18 months.

For Symbian, the distinction between PDA and phone is diminishing. The process will accelerate, according to the consortium, as Bluetooth wireless chips become incorporated into the handsets. "The phone doesn't have to look like a phone anymore, that's the major thing -- there will be many different sizes of devices. But that decision is up to the manufacturer," said Symbian spokesman Paul Cockerton.

The consortium's momentum has obliged PDA rivals to take heed. Palm Computing has allied with consortium member Nokia to produce devices using EPOC together with Palm's familiar user interface and Grafitti input.

Even Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) has agreed to release software for EPOC. Last year the Redmond, Wash., company acquired STNC, the company that produces the Web browser for today's Release 5 EPOC package.

Although Ericsson recently provided the first end-to-end demonstration of GPRS, a faster, always-on cellular technology capable of much higher speeds than today's 9,600KBps, the devices may not see their potential realized until bandwidth increases. "The hardware infrastructure for the advanced services Symbian wants to deliver isn't in place," said IDC analyst Allan Liebovitch.

Symbian aims to hook up with 40 million of the 1 billion cellular subscribers IDC estimates will be active by 2003.

Editorial standards