Symbian aims downmarket with smart phone software

Symbian is taking its operating software for smart phones downmarket with a new focus on high-volume, low-cost phones for the mass market, and a renewed emphasis on security, it said Wednesday.

The new software could appear in phones in the second half of this year, and will help manufacturers lower costs and bring new models to market quicker in a number of ways, Symbian said. Intel is building reference hardware designs specially for the new software, which will simplify phone manufacturers' work, according to Symbian. In addition, manufacturers will be able to squeeze extra battery life and multimedia performance out of their designs with no change in hardware, Symbian said, thanks to the design of the software and a new compiler from Arm PLC, the developer of the StrongArm chips on which Symbian OS runs.

Version 9 of Symbian OS can help improve security by preventing applications from sending text messages, making calls or accessing personal information on the phone unless specific permission has been granted. However, the details of the implementation are left up to the phone manufacturer, which may choose to request the permission via an on-screen dialog with the user, or simply hide the dialog and grant it automatically, according to Symbian's Vice President of Product Management, Morton Grauballe.

Earlier versions of Symbian software used such security dialogs to prevent the installation of rogue applications -- but the permissions system is no defense against users who will agree to any security question they are asked when installing software of doubtful origin, Grauballe said.

Symbian's image has been tarnished of late by reports of Trojan horse applications such as Gavno which, if installed on a phone running Symbian software, could stop it from functioning. This malware did not exploit any security flaws in Symbian OS, but instead relied on misleading users into agreeing to the installation, the company said.

The company has another strategy to combat the problem of users not paying attention: its Symbian Signed program. This aims to encourage users only to install software that has been digitally signed by an authorized application developer.

Among the other new features in Symbian OS version 9 is support for Bluetooth stereo cordless headphones, and the addition of audio mixing and playback functions -- all of which should appeal to music fans -- as well as the latest copy prevention systems for commercial music files, which should appease the record labels.

The software also gives network operators or employers more remote control over phones running the software. The previous version of Symbian OS introduced over-the-air control of device settings. The new version adds support for other management functions, including the ability to remotely examine which applications are running on it and how they are configured, and even to install new applications, Grauballe said. A digital certificate stored in the phone is first used to authenticate the identity of anyone seeking remote access, then the user is asked whether they wish to grant permission to the remote visitor to enter, he said.

For business users, the new software also offers improved e-mail capabilities, such as the ability to accept meeting invitations sent by colleagues using applications such as Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook. Version 9 also adds support for Java Community Process standards for personal information management, the company said.

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