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GUI wars return: Motorola, Sony Ericsson tie-up

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Exclusive Motorola has licensed Symbian's UIQ ("Thin Quartz") user interface for its forthcoming Paragon 3G smartphone, industry sources have told The Register.

This is the UI for SonyEricsson's forthcoming P800 smartphone, which if our mailbag is anything to go by, needs no Astroturf to fuel the buzz. The move signals Motorola's intention to attack Palm's PDA high ground with a fully integrated communicator. UIQ borrows heavily from Palm's" Zen" of simplicity.

Created in Symbian's Ronneby lab in Sweden, "Thin Quartz" evolved from the Quartz DFRD (reference platform), a tablet, pen-driven form factor phone which was first demonstrated in public in February 2000.

No Quartz devices ever shipped, although Sanyo repeatedly demonstrated a prototype. Ericsson's "Pamela" Quartz device was repeatedly delayed and now languishes as a "research project", and Motorola itself - ironically - axed the Odin collaboration with Psion, which would have been first Quartz phone to market.

Ericsson judged the original Quartz to be too clunky, although that hasn't stopped Microsoft going to market with a very similar wide tablet smartphone.

"Thin Quartz" shrank the screen from 320x240 in the original reference design, to 320x208 - the latter is still available as a UIQ option - and SonyEricsson has used the increased pixel density of the latest screens to reduce the width of the device as a whole to something no larger than a typical 2G handset.

The UIQ deal pits SonyEricsson and Motorola against Nokia, which is licensing the Series 60 user interface, which makes its debuts on the 7650 camera phone. Series 60 does not support pen input. So the two aren't direct competitors. Yet. But Nokia, which offers three user interfaces (Series 40 for 2G phones, and Series 60 and Series 80 for Symbian phones) to competing handset manufacturer, is likely to add touch screen input either to the 60 and 80, or to a new class of tablet device.

Symbian probably doesn't mind which one out of UIQ, or Nokia Series n0 wins, since both require Symbian OS (formerly EPOC). Symbian revised its strategy last year, essentially pulling out of the business of designing user interfaces. So what, you may wonder, is the future of the Ronneby lab?

Well, a joint-venture looks the most likely, with SonyEricsson and Motorola taking joint ownership, and attempting to license it to other manufacturers. The Ronneby lab was itself spun out of Ericsson early on in Symbian's history.

Motorola's phone user interfaces have been notoriously user hostile, although some progress has been made with more recent models. The Paragon phone, we gather, will ship when Hutchison launches its 3G network.

Now what could Nokia be doing to produce its first tablet-based, pen-input phone? A very good question, but you've quite enough to be getting on with for today. ®

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Motorola takes wraps off 'Odin' Symbian PDA
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Inside Quartz: Symbian's new Palm-killer platform

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