The Mobile OS War
By Joachim Bamrud, Thu Sep 27 00:00:00 GMT 2001

Microsoft is gaining marketshare of mobile device operating systems at the expense of rivals like Palm, but faces strong future competition from Symbian.

The war for marketshare of the mobile Internet revolution is not only over handsets and communications, but also the software of the devices' operating systems.

And there, two players currently dominate: Palm and Microsoft. A third, Symbian, has little to show for so far, but should grow significantly thanks to Nokia, analysts say.

Ericsson's smartphone R380 (sold globally), Nokia's 9210 Communicator (sold in Europe and Asia), and all the Psion PDA products (sold globally) use Symbian's EPOC operating system.

EPOC will also be used on the Nokia 9290 (the 9210's American cousin), set to launch early next year.

Symbian faced a major setback in January when Motorola backed out of a deal with Psion to develop and produce smartphones. Motorola said at the time that it still planned to use Symbian for a device that would be released in 2002.

"Motorola believes the Symbian platform offers great potential for capitalizing on the opportunity in integrated devices and will continue to invest development resources to take Symbian devices to market," Motorola said in a statement.

But the breakup of the Psion alliance caused a significant financial blow to Psion, which is the major owner of Symbian. Coupled with the delays in 3G networks by European operators, Psion Chairman David Potter announced in late August that Symbian was facing a diminished short-term outlook and would need fresh funding next year.

Part of Symbian's failure has also been the fact that smartphones have seen a much smaller market than originally anticipated at this point, some analysts say.

Yet, while Symbian can only brag about two smartphone models so far, many analysts say it can't be ruled out just yet due to the fact that it is owned by giants such as Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola (as well as Matsushita and Psion) and has licensing deals with Sony, Siemens, Sanyo, Philips and Kenwood.

"Nokia [is] clearly supporting Symbian," says Sarah Kim, an analyst with Yankee Group, pointing to the Finnish company's pledge to put Symbian into half of its phones by 2003. "That's a strong statement considering Nokia's position."

Microsoft Smartphone

At the same time, Microsoft's OS for smartphones has only been announced in one product so far, the Sendo Z100, set for release at the end of the year or early next year. The smartphone OS, code-named "Stinger," will also be included in future products from Samsung, Mitsubishi Trium and HTC (the company that designed and built Compaq's iPAQ), Microsoft says.

In addition to a browser that supports Joachim Bamrud is an award-winning journalist with 17 years experience as a writer and editor in the United States, Europe and Latin America. Bamrud has worked for various print, broadcast and online media, including Latin Trade, Reuters and UPI.