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Motorola sells Symbian stake to Nokia, Psion

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Update Motorola may have launched its first Symbian handset yesterday, but its interest in the smartphone operating system company has clearly waned. Today, Nokia and Psion said they had begun the process of transferring Motorola's stake in Symbian to themselves.

Symbian is a privately held company, owned by Psion, its co-founder with Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola. Since then Samsung, Matsushita-Pioneer and Siemens have come on board as investors.

As we pointed out recently, back in March Symbian said 21 devices were in development from ten licensees. Last week, the number of licensees with products in the pipeline had fallen to nine.

Motorola remains a Symbian licensee, and today reiterated that it will continue to support the OS. But the implication is that it will only do so if specific customers require it - something less than the wholehearted endorsement of the OS that it has offered in the past. Indeed, it now believes Java is the future, and while Symbian provides a host for Java apps, so do other smartphone operating systems.

"We believe Java is what ultimately provides our customers worldwide with the most optimised and differentiated mobile experiences," said Scott Durchslag, corporate VP of Motorola's Personal Communications Sector, in a statement.

Hence the shift away from Symbian and the reduction in its shareholding. When the transfer is complete, Nokia will have grown its stake from 19 per cent to 32.2 per cent, while Psion's shareholding will rise from 25.3 per cent to 31.1 per cent. Nokia clearly gets the bulk of Motorola's 19 per cent shareholding.

That leaves Ericsson with 19 per cent of Symbian, Matsushita with 7.9 per cent, Samsung on five per cent and Siemens with just 4.8 per cent.

The scale to the transaction - which remains undisclosed, but should turn up on Motorola's books in due course - values Symbian as a whole at £300 million ($473 million), the company said.

This reference to valuation, plus Symbian's decision to start regularly announcing financial results, makes us wonder if the business is looking to float. Certainly, as a privately held company, it's under no obligation to offer such information to the public, so the fact it's doing so has to be regarded as a tactical move, if only to ensure it gains mindshare in the analyst community against its main rival, the publicly traded Microsoft.

The transfer is by no means a done deal - other Symbian shareholders have the right to have a say in the matter, and the German Federal Cartel Office will have to give its blessing - but the three key parties are expecting nothing to impede the transaction progress, which they hope will be complete "within the coming weeks". ®

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