July 12, 2006, 9:12 AM — Symbian Ltd. introduced the latest version of its smart phone operating system on Wednesday, adding support for new wireless technologies and capabilities aimed at pushing smart phones into the mass market.
Symbian OS v9.3 features an improved start-up time and quicker responsiveness to applications, the company said. Those are features that handset makers and operators have told Symbian they want in order to make the phones more attractive to mainstream users, said Jorgen Behrens, vice president of product management and strategy at Symbian.
It's difficult to quantify how much faster the phones will boot up, he said, because start up times also depend on how quickly other elements can start up, like the user interface and other programs.
The upgrade also makes it easier for developers to remove features they might not want to include in lower-price phones. Developers could remove features before but the process could be challenging because the features had greater dependences on each other, meaning that removing one might disturb another, Behrens said.
Another notable addition is native support for Wi-Fi. While Symbian phones can offer Wi-Fi today, the phone developer has to write much of the support for it. With the new OS, developers can easily add Wi-Fi, Behrens said.
The upgrade also supports UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access), which allows users to make and receive voice over IP calls over Wi-Fi, and automatically transfer the call to a cellular network when the phone moves out of Wi-Fi range.
Version 9.3 also supports the latest cellular data technology, HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), as well as push-to-talk services.
Symbian has added new tools for developers, including OS awareness for the Eclipse/CDT IDE framework and Nokia Corp.'s Carbide c++ development tools.
Licensees are developing phones now based on the new OS, and they should begin to appear next year, Symbian said.
The company faces the potential of growing competition from Microsoft Corp., which recently introduced a smart phone operating system that includes push e-mail. Symbian has 74 percent of the smart phone market worldwide, compared to 8 percent from Microsoft, said Nick Spencer, an analyst at Canalys. "Microsoft is still warming up really," he said.
Phone makers such as Motorola Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. have started offering phones based on the Microsoft OS. Once they start to offer more models then Microsoft will become a bigger threat, Spencer said.