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Smartphones - cement or compost?

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Symbian Show Symbian CEO played footsie with hubris when he predicted the end of the PC today. Nigel Clifford was speaking at a press conference at Symbian's Smartphone Show held in the London's docklands today and tomorrow.

"A tipping point is arriving," he said. The death of the PC has been forecast many times, but Clifford reckons that the PC business is "flatlining". Or is that just Dell?

Instead the PC will be replaced by … er, cement.

"We are the best cement company, and thanks to us there have been some fantastic buildings and architecture constructed around the world using our cement," Clifford told an enthralled audience in his keynote. Or at least that's how All About Symbian's Ewan Spence paraphrased it - which is good enough for us.

In spite of this compelling hard sell, attendance at Symbian's annual jamboree is up a quarter from last year, with almost twice as many press and analysts.

Symbian will have been bolstered by the unusual announcement of two devices from Korean giants. Both Samsung's SGH-i-520 and LG's JoY are HSDPA, high speed 3G devices. The JoY is a chocolate slider with an unfortunate design defect: LG placed the "delete" key under a poorly-recessed D-pad. You're likely to activate this when you choose an option. Delete Messaging? the phone asked us. Actually no. Delete Contacts? No, again.

From the show floor we noticed that no one talks about the third-party application market anymore. Five years ago it that was all Symbian talked about. Now, the hottest applications are services: particularly VoIP and ways of getting stuff you already have.

Sling Media demonstrated a mobile version of its client that allows you to view your TV on a remote device. Not to be outdone, Orb now offers YouTube videos on a mobile; Orb's service merely requires a mobile browser. Oh - and a benevolent carrier. The video quality in each case is impressive.

Symbian's partners have had teething problems in getting phones based on the real-time kernel to market, although all sound bullish about bringing products to market faster in the future.

We've been trying a VoIP service fro AQL on a Nokia E-series smartphone. And while there are teething problems with roaming from hotspot to hotspot, cellular minutes used at home has dropped to approximately… zero.

The floor was chocca with messaging solutions. Blackberry has a huge stand, although complaints about getting it to work abound. DataViz has been blessed by Redmond to go forth and destroy RIM: its RoadSync Exchange push client doesn't need an intermediary server, and DataViz's pricing is pretty attractive: a one time fee of $99 per user: no annual subs, and no server fees.

Bootnote: Quite by coincidence, your reporter found himself at the annual All About Symbian pub meet yesterday sporting a wire brush and a large bag of compost. This was certainly not in anticipation of the presence of Lars Lindstrom, senior product mangler for the P990 smartphone, who was the guest speaker for the evening. We asked Lars if he'd reinstate the 5-way scroll wheel for the P-series. It used to have a lovely user interface, and now, with UIQ3, it was 'orrible.

"There's a lot of people who want the 5-way jog dial back actually," Lars admitted. "But we took it away because some people found it complicated. I tend to agree and I really liked the 5-way,".

Hurrah! Then came the bad news.

"The p910 were for pioneers - now we see a bigger market with volume sales, and it the 5-way was too complicated."

Lars, we won't be so sparing with the compost next time - or the brush.

More from the show floor tomorrow. ®

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