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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Mobile operating system vendor Symbian Ltd is in danger of losing the support of wireless business application developers unless its supporters can bring compelling devices to market as soon as possible,

writes Tony Cripps.

Richard Owen, CEO of Hayward, California-based wireless software vendor AvantGo Inc said his company has ports of its supply chain, sales force automation and field force automation packages for the London, UK-based company's operating system "pretty much ready to go". However, changing market factors mean that they might never be launched commercially.

Owen pointed to the failure of Symbian's partners to capitalize on the Psion spin-off's early lead in the race to develop high-end operating systems for mobile devices as the reason behind his company's reticence in bringing compatible products to market. To date only Nokia Oyj's 9210Communicator and LM Ericsson Telefon AB's R380 models have hit the high street.

This has given chief rival Microsoft Corp the chance to fill the breach with its own PDA and smart phone offerings. And with the recent launch of Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition, Microsoft's first real foray into Symbian's territory of truly converged phone/PDA operating systems, Symbian's advantage seems to have been all but eroded.

"I have no idea why there are no devices. I thought they were further along last year than they are now. [The decision of Symbian shareholders Motorola and Psion to cancel their jointly developed Odin device last year] took a huge amount of wind out of their sails," said Owen.

So while AvantGo's portfolio includes versions of its products for the Palm OS (AvantGo's original target platform), Microsoft's Pocket PC and Research In Motion Ltd's BlackBerry devices, Symbian is in danger of never joining that list.

Despite this, Owen still has a great deal of time for Symbian's product, describing it as "complex but powerful". He said he believes Symbian's best chance of re-establishing itself now rests with how quickly and successfully Symbian shareholder Nokia can bring compelling devices using the platform to market.

Nokia has long been seen as the leading mobile handset vendor, not only in terms of market share, but also in the desirability of its products. Indeed, much of the Finnish company's continued success is attributable to this factor. And it may now be crucial to the prosperity of Symbian, too. "It's Nokia versus Microsoft now and Symbian is the squash racquet," said Owen.[The other Symbian shareholders] will be looking to Nokia for products and services. If Nokia brings out a compelling product then Motorola and the rest may follow."

Palm Inc also came in for criticism from Owen. The early PDA leader had, he said, lost its status as the "people's choice", presumably due to its unwillingness to play the features game with the rapidly evolving PDAs based on Microsoft's Pocket PC platform. Again, the company is now in catch-up mode.

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