Insight 5

This article was written by David Wood and published on the Symbian corporate website in January 2006

Insight 5 3GSM preview: this time it’s (almost) obvious

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they oppose you. Finally, they say that your proposition is obvious, and they deny ever having disagreed with you.

That was the four-stage sequence of actions observed more than sixty years ago, by Mahatma Gandhi, describing the way people respond to groundbreaking new ideas.  He could have been describing my experiences at the annual “3GSM” gathering of the mobile phone industry, which takes place every year in mid February.

Symbian’s proposition is that there will be mass-market adoption of computer-based highly programmable mobile phones running Symbian OS, delivering greatly more utility and value than standard mobile phones.  It has been our vision, since even before our foundation in 1998, that the users of these smartphones would eventually be numbered in hundreds of millions – in dramatic contrast to the mere handfuls of millions of users of, for example, PDAs.  In my early years at 3GSM gatherings, the main reaction to this proposition (apart from a few notable exceptions among high-tech visionaries) was a mixture of disbelief and polite ridicule.  People asked, “Where-oh-where are the smartphones Symbian has been promising?”  In the following years, the prevailing comment was that there were only a few Symbian smartphone models available – hardly enough to fuel a revolution in mobile usability.  And every year, we encountered scornful comments, “Don’t you realise that <competitor X> or <competitor Y> is going to steamroll you guys out of existence, with their latest killer release”.  (Interestingly, every year, it’s a different so-called killer release that we are supposed to worry about.)

But in the early weeks of 2006, it’s clear that there’s a different mood in the air.  Recent news is piling up more evidence of mainstream business support for Symbian OS.  For example, in a conference call on 26th January, reviewing Nokia’s Q4 2005 financial results (transcript available online at, Jorma Ollila, Chairman and CEO of Nokia, commented as follows:

  • The 6630 and 6680 continue to be in the top ten [of all Nokia phones] for both revenue and profits in the fourth quarter
  • In the fourth quarter the N70 was already [in the] top five in revenue and profits in Nokia overall.
  • All three of the named phones are powered by S60 running on Symbian OS.
  • Being one of the top five performing phones for Nokia (by some margin the world’s largest selling phone manufacturer) means that the N70 is making a very significant value contribution around the world.  It’s a clear sign that Symbian is a mainstream business.

In the Japanese marketplace, Symbian-powered phones from the NTT DoCoMo 902i (top-of-the-range phones packed with functionality) have been rocketing off the store shelves since their launch in Q4. Symbian OS has also been used in the “Raku Raku” handsets that are designed to be especially easy for older people to use.  They have larger keys, clearer screen instructions, and simpler functionality.  Their ease-of-use has made these phones a hit with many people who would not be happy to be labelled as “elderly”!  These phones tend to have names with “ES” at their end – such as the F880iES – standing for “Easy Simple”.  Even more remarkably, the D880SS also uses Symbian OS, despite not having a graphics screen.  The display is in monochrome, and is restricted to text.  In this case, the “SS” in the name is said to stand for “Simple Simple”: the phone is designed to be familiar to users of the simplest house-based handsets.  The manufacturer, Mitsubishi, has found Symbian OS to be the best choice of operating system for this phone, despite the reduced functionality, on account of the benefits of scale and re-use from all their other (higher spec) Symbian OS phones.  This is another indication of things to come.

One more example deserves attention.  This is the Sony Ericsson M600 phone, announced in the lead-up to 3GSM.  It’s the second Sony Ericsson handset to be announced using UIQ v3 on Symbian OS (v9.1), following the P990 introduced at the tail end of last year.  It’s a sign of Sony Ericsson enjoying the platform benefits of Symbian OS software re-use across multiple handsets.  But whereas the P990 is part of the “Prestige” top-of-the-range family of Sony Ericsson smartphones, I expect the M600 will have wider appeal:

  • It’s smaller, in every dimension
  • It leaves out the camera and WiFi – to reduce the size, simplify the overall usage, and (very importantly) to help keep the price affordable to a wider range of purchaser
  • It has a new keyboard, designed to make it easier for people to type in text messages and email messages while on the move
  • It fits comfortably into a pocket
  • It supports full operation by either one or two hands.

All these Symbian OS phones benefit from the large ecosystem of suppliers of add-on functionality.  Just because they’re mainstream doesn’t mean they’re low-tech.  They still carry plenty of punch.  For example, look at this impressive list of extra software that is available for the M600, either built into the phone, or via a “try and buy” scheme that is bundled with the phone packaging:

  • Powerpoint, Word, and Excel editors
  • Adobe PDF viewer
  • On-device data encryption, from Pointsec
  • VPN client, from Certicom
  • McAfee anti-virus protection
  • Full HTML browser, from Opera
  • Choice of a large number of different push email solutions, to suit the corporate and/or personal needs of all users – including BlackBerry from RIM, Visto, Altexia, iAnywhere OneBridge, Intellisync, Microsoft Exchange Active Sync, Seven, and Ericsson Mobile Office

There’s even an on-board “application shop” that make it easier for users to discover new functionality available in applications that can be downloaded over-the-air onto the phone.

These items of add-on software, together with many other fruits of smartphone innovation, will be on show at 3GSM.  Like previous years, it should be an exciting jamboree of an event.  But this year, people won’t need to be visionary to foresee the mainstream business success of Symbian.

What’s harder to foresee is which of the many add-on applications and services will best fulfil their latent potential of captivating end-users to the extent that these users collectively part with large quantities of cash for using them.  Here are my personal six top picks for what 2006 will bring:Mass-market adoption of mobile email:

  • Everyone who has email on their desktop stands to benefit from mobile access to it, using the phone of their choice, rather than an additional, dedicated device that needs to be carried separately
  • Mainstream users will become enamoured with TV on their mobile phones
  • Users will show renewed interest in mobile games with high-intensity graphics, on phones with the next generation of hardware and software
  • More and more people will be leaving their iPods at home, since their music needs will be fully met by the music storage and playback features of their mobile phones
  • Mobile phones will bring a whole lot of extra fun to end-users, going beyond ringtones and wallpapers with richer options for personalisation, comedy, animation, and interaction
  • Mobile phones will increasingly be recognised as first-class mobile business tools, allowing employees to access important aspects of their corporate information systems while away from their offices.

In short, there will be plenty of scope to “Do more with Symbian”.

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