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Symbian speeds up smartphone OS

Version 9.5 apps load 75% faster

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Symbian gave public details of a major new version of its eponymous phone OS today, touting significant performance improvements.

Version 9.5 should appear in phones beginning in the second half of next year or the first half of 2009, Symbian executive VP of marketing Jørgen Behrens told us.

New features include improvements for VoIP, such as automatic switching between 3G and WLAN, which Symbian calls "bearer mobility", and performance improvements to the networking stacks. Version 9.5 also includes a SQL database - SQL Lite - and the contacts API has been revised to support it by default. Scheduling enhancements for Notes and Exchange users have also been included, such as group invites and resource allocation. With agenda and contacts running on a database, look ups for corporate-sized address books should be much faster than today.

Symbian also includes location APIs giving developers easy access to GPS information and support for Microsoft's Media Transfer protocol.

But most of the work has been directed at improving performance. New smartphones appearing last year were dogged by performance and memory complaints.

In 9.5, Symbian has introduced demand paging, background RAM defragmentation, and memory optimisations such as read and write-head caching. Applications use 20 to 30 per cent less RAM, according to the company. Using demand paging, applications can load portions of code as needed, rather than having to load and map the entire application and all its associated libraries on start up. As a result, Berens said large applications, such as web browsers, start up to 75 per cent faster.

Berens said it was also possible to power down a memory bank not in use at the operating system level, which squeezed more life from limited battery capacity.

The consensus among users is that there is a problem - but is the operating system really to blame for poor performance? Experience with Sony Ericsson and Motorola's Symbian phones (once the user has disabled the unncessary user interface gimmicks) isn't noticably bad. And Samsung's Series 60 phone (the SGH-i-520) runs at blistering speed. But all three manufacturers use faster chips: from Philips, Freescale and Samsung itself, respectively. All of which suggests that Nokia is to blame for the perception that smartphones are slow, because it chooses to use underpowered chips. ®

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