Don't ask about the smartphones, Symbian CEO says

Symbian has mass-market phones in its sights. Upcoming Nokia phones are proof it's moving in the right direction, according to an analyst.

Symbian, which has made most of its money providing software for high-end, feature-rich phones, has got the mass market in its sights. Upcoming handsets from Nokia are proof that it's moving in the right direction, according to Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight.

Symbian released its results for the first quarter on Tuesday, announcing that 18.5 million Symbian mobile phones shipped, a 16.5 percent increase compared to the first three months last year. That's an acceptable number and largely in line with expectations, according to Wood.

Symbian's push into more mass-market and midmarket phones is the key to increasing its sales volumes, and it's starting to pay off, according to CEO Nigel Clifford.

"If you look at products like the G700 and G900, it's very difficult to see the difference between them and a standard Sony Ericsson device," Clifford said.

Part of Symbian's plan is to remold its image and distance itself from smartphones, which historically have made up the bulk of its business.

"One of the things we are focusing on far more now [is], don't talk about the smartphone marketplace, internally and externally, just talk about the overall phone market," Clifford said.

"We are driven by volume as a company. The biggest volume opportunity is within our existing licensees, displacing their proprietary operating systems," he said.

Those proprietary OSes are Symbian's biggest competitors, not other platforms like the Google-backed Android and Microsoft's Windows Mobile, according to Clifford. Key to beating them is how easily it can create new models and variations on those models, and the cost of components. Symbian also is helped by carriers wanting to decrease the number of operating systems.

For the consumer, Symbian means better stability and more applications to choose from, according Clifford. He sees a lot of opportunity in navigation services and being able to make payments from a mobile phone.

"We have barely scratched the surface in those areas," said Clifford.

Symbian's move to midmarket and mass-market phones is gaining traction and is especially helped by Nokia, according to Wood. Upcoming phones like the 6210 Navigator, the 6220 Classic (which was Wood's favorite model from Mobile World Congress) and the 5320 XpressMusic will help volumes pick up later in the year.

"Both the 5320 XpressMusic and the 6220 Classic will be aggressively priced," Wood said.

He isn't as impressed by the G700 and G900 from Sony Ericsson.

Symbian is co-owned by Ericsson, Nokia (which owns 47.9 percent), Panasonic, Samsung, Siemens and Sony Ericsson.

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Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
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