Phones smarten up for business

Itís about a year since I wrote about the trends in Wireless Information Devices (WIDs). That term seems to have gone out of use and they now seem to be generically referred to as smartphones. Nothing much has happened in the market until two recent product announcements from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. Nokia has announced the 7650 and Sony Ericsson the P800. Both use the Symbian operating system, which was previously used by only the Nokia 9210 and the Ericsson R380e. In the strange traditions of the mobile phone world, neither product will be available for several months yet.

The two new phones are strikingly similar in features, both have large colour screens and an integral digital camera. They both have infrared, Bluetooth, HSCSD and GPRS. You can use a WAP browser or an HTML one and handle email on the move. The P800 has a touch sensitive screen and the 7650 uses a joystick for navigation. These highly-featured products are capable of handling the new MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) and the makers are convinced that everyone will want to send pictures to each other with voice and text annotations. I wonder if that will catch on? I suspect that it just might.

However, putting aside all the hype, the important messages we can draw from these announcements are about the long-term success of the Symbian platform. Both of the new products, like the Nokia 9210, are open platforms that can run third-party applications. Software can be written in C++ or Java and downloaded to the phone via Bluetooth, infrared, cable or even over the air. The design of the OS means that software developed for one Symbian-based product can easily be adapted for a totally different one. The user interfaces of the two new phones look quite different but the software to drive them needs very little change to support either one. This efficiency of programming, combined with phones that are not too bulky to carry in the pocket, should encourage the development of a lot of business applications as well as the more light-hearted consumer ones.

Symbian is working on an add-on technology, called Magpie, which automatically collects information from the web for a user but displays it in context in the built-in applications. For example, opening your diary might give a summary of todayís weather at the top of the page and show the latest football score later in the day. These sources of information update dynamically and the football scores might be replaced by a report when the game is over. This is a neat idea and will make smartphones more friendly and useful.

As well as Nokia and Sony Ericsson, Symbian has licensed its operating system to Motorola, Siemens, Panasonic, Sanyo, Fujitsu and Kenwood. All of them are developing mobile products based on the OS and there should be several announcements in the coming months.

Taken together, this is all good news for Symbian and it is hard to see how any other OS could take much market share away from it.

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