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Symbian is predicting a big year for devices based on its mobile device operating system but is preparing to take a back seat to let its partners and licensees fire up the smart phone market.

Development costs for Symbian-powered devices are high, but if current growth rates continue the money should prove well spent.

Symbian CEO David Levin has told delegates at the company's Exposium03 developer event in London that as of the end of March some 21 products from 10 licensees were either in the latter stages of development or had reached the market, including 17 devices from six vendors that have not yet been made public.

Mr Levin said that over 2.1 million Symbian-powered devices were shipped in 2002 compared with around 500,000 in 2001. Even more encouraging, some 1.18 million devices shipped in the first quarter of 2003 against just 147,000 in the same period last year.

The company's confidence was further justified by Symbian EVP of partnering, David Wood. Mr Wood said the number of available Symbian applications is also increasing rapidly, albeit from a tiny base.

About 1,050 are now available across all Symbian variants, including Nokia's Series 60 and Series 80 and Symbian's own UIQ, almost trebling in the last six months and nearly doubling in the first quarter this year.

The steady delivery of new Symbian-based smartphones and the increase in developer interest bodes well for the company over the coming year and should continue the rapid growth seen so far with just a handful of devices. And the upward trend looks set to continue as the cost of development of new Symbian devices comes down.

Mr Levin provided some interesting information regarding the development costs of Symbian-powered devices. He said that the typical cost was around $30 million, although the most expensive so far had reached almost $100 million.

However, if the current growth spiral continues that money should prove well spent, as original equipment manufacturers are able to leverage their R&D investment to produce new models or to sell on their base platform to other vendors.

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