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Ex-Symbian exec launches mobile software biz

Chasing mass market

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Simon East, the ex-head of technology for Symbian Plc, has founded another mobile software company called Cognima Ltd, which he is currently unveiling to the public. It will develop a mobile application framework that will deliver services to inexpensive low-end phones that are currently only available on high-end phones.

East said he decided to leave Symbian because he said he wanted to develop software that would be used in mass-market devices. This was a fundamental criticism of the company, which itself suggests that 2002 will be the year that the Symbian EPOC operating system will make it to market in high volumes. However, East was disparaging about this and said: "Every year they say that the Smartphone market will take off next year."

In February 2001, Cognima received 1.2m pounds ($1.74m) in seed funding from venture capital house Atlas Ventures. It has now won another 5m pounds ($7.27m) in funding from Atlas, TLcom Capital Partners, and TTP Ventures - the venture capital arm of intellectual property house TTP Group Plc.

East expects Cognima to go into trials with a major operator by the end of the year, and launch the company's software as a full commercial product by early 2003. The idea is to install a server software product called Cognima Home Server, which includes an Oracle Corp Database running on carrier grade Unix and a Java communications server.

This will be placed inside the operator's network along with a client on the user's phone. The client software can then be used to keep the information on the handset synchronized with the information stored on the server. But unlike other synchronization approaches, this will happen in the background, without users' explicit knowledge and without them having to manually force the device to connect to the server - unlike many synchronization products today.

The client will also be able to manage to synchronize the information across a variety of devices, which means that the same information will be available to the user, whatever device they are currently using, as long as they have the client software installed.

Cognima also believes it will be impossible to make either business users or consumers pay for this service on a per-bit basis. Instead the client will communicate with the server, and only send information at times when the traffic is low on the operator's network. This will enable the operator to market the services on a fixed-fee basis, which should make it more popular with users. Initially, the client will support a variety of information types, including contact information, calendar information, other details such as account settings and passwords, and content that is regularly accessed.

The company will also have a web interface, where the phone can be managed and content can be changed from a PC. Although many of these applications are obvious to the average mobile user, operators have been particularly slow to launch these kind of services.

On the same day that London, UK-based Cognima made itself public, specialist mobile network software integration house CMG Plc announced that it would launch a product, mSafetyNet, developed by mobile synchronization and middleware specialist Intuwave, which would enable users to back up their phone contacts onto a mobile device. This could make Cognima very late to market when it launches.

However, Cognima is very precise in its focus. It only looking at the high-volume low-cost mass-market phones. It is going to aim for a new class of phone manufacturers - mainly Asian companies that are expected to bring low-cost unbranded phones to market in the next year or so. The phones are likely to be branded by the operators, which will control the software installed on the device.

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