Symbian releases real-time, one-chip OS

Breakthrough

3GSM Although Symbian's press conference was consumed by politics - which is hardly surprising as Nokia is the most powerful company in the industry, and Symbian is the runaway smart phone OS provider - the company had some significant product news.

Version 8.0 of the Symbian OS now has real-time capabilities, allowing phone vendors to build one-chip phones. At present, the most popular smart phone platforms, such as Texas Instruments' OMAP, typically feature two processors: one to handle the radio communications and one to handle the data operating system that the user sees.

In some cases, one CPU juggles two operating systems, as is the case with the Nokia Communicator, which runs Symbian OS as a thread from the Nokia "operating system". (It's generous to call it an operating system, it's more of an instruction pointer, but we digress). However, in both cases the radio communications - the GSM stack - is not handled by the operating system that the user sees.

With version 8.0, phone manufacturers will be able to use just one OS, and Symbian will take on the workload of handling the radio. It's the first major contender to boast the ability, and it's far from trivial. The OS must be able to handle requests quickly, and users expect the phone not to crash.

What does it all mean? The Intel philosophy is that integration leads to cheaper devices, but two cheap chips may still be continue to be more appealing for manufacturers for the forseeable future than one more expensive CPU. We'll see.

Version 8.0 also features updated Java, better APIs for controlling the phone application and "enhanced multimedia capabilities", which means stronger DRM - which translates to 'significantly degraded multimedia capabilities', in real life, of course.

Symbian snagged two new licensees this week: LG Electronics and Chinese giant Legend, which trades under the name Lenovo, have both signed up to produce phones based on Series 60. ®

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