Who’s Afraid Of Apple & Google? Not Symbian

[qi:83] The recent entry of Apple (AAPL) and the looming Google (GOOG) OS for mobiles are a cause of concern for everyone – from handset makers to mobile carriers. Their mobile forays should be of serious concern for Mobile OS makers such as Microsoft (MSFT) and Symbian. While Apple wants to gobble up the high-end smart phone market, Google wants to come from below and commoditize the Mobile OS business.

Jerry Panagrossi, vice president of US operations for smart phone OS maker, doesn’t seem to be too worried (or doing an awesome job of faking it) about the two competitive threats to his London-based company’s livelihood.


“The US market for smart phones has been mostly enterprise related, but Apple has jump started the consumer demand for smart phone,” he said in a chat earlier today at our offices. “Apple’s market share gains show that devices can make a difference,” said Panagrossi.

He believes now handset makers will start thinking about making interesting and innovative handsets available in the US. Hopefully some of them will be using Symbian’s mobile OS, commonly found in high-end Nokia (NOK) and Sony Ericsson (SNE) mobile phones.

The number of Symbian-based phones increased 44% to 34.6 million in the first six months of 2007 from 24 million in 1H 2006, with a quarter of those sales coming from Japan. The recent success of Nokia N95 and E-Series phones has also helped Symbian boost its revenues to about $172 million. It is not clear if the company turned a profit.


Nokia will soon launch a US 3G version of its best selling N95 phone soon, and hopefully that will be enough to jump start OS maker’s anemic market share in the US market. I don’t know how they are going to do that unless they come up with smart phones for CDMA-based carriers.

Yet, they seem to be in buoyant mood. Symbian forecasts that US demand for smart phones is going to get into high gear around Christmas time and will grow at a rapid clip through most of 2008. That means new mobile handsets in the US.

Symbian team was carrying the new Motorola (MOT) Z8 slider that is based on their OS, and it did look pretty sweet. (It was a remarkable improvement over Motorola’s UI.) Most of the newer Symbian-based phones include Motorola Z8 are packed with multimedia features, thanks to a recent upgrade of the OS by the company.

Symbian predicts that most of the high-end features found in Japanese handsets such as advanced 3G, motion sensors and TV playback are going to become commonplace in 2008. The push he believes will come from the carriers, they believe.

“Our experience shows that when the mobile market reaches a level of maturity, the demand for smart phones grows sharply,” Panagrossi said, pointing to Japan and Europe as examples. “In a saturated market innovation around handsets becomes a key factor.”

“Apple has raised the bar in term of usability, and there are many fast followers (handset makers such as LG and Samsung) who are taking notice,” he points out. At present there are three UIs on top of Symbian – Nokia’s S60, Sony Ericsson’s UIQ and MOAP (very popular in Japan) and possibility exists that another UI could emerge in the near future.

When asked about Google OS, Symbian folks said that all that is out there has been rumors. When it happens, they will talk about it at that point. Panagrossi said that the company has spent over $750 million on developing its OS, and has a developer network, along with partnerships with handset makers and carriers, that others will have to develop.

“We have been doing this for ten years, and it has taken us many man years to come up with a mature solution,” he said. Lets hope that is enough.