Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB has agreed with its fellow shareholders in Symbian Ltd to buy them out of UIQ Technology AB, a 100% Symbian subsidiary that develops an eponymous user interface (UI) for the smart phone OS.
UIQ is one of the various UIs from which handset manufacturers can choose when building phones on the Symbian OS. The others, Series 60, 80 and 90, all belong to Nokia Corp, which in addition to supplying a third of the world’s mobile phones itself, also licenses its UIs to companies such as Samsung and LG.
Due primarily to Nokia’s own clout in the global market, UIQ is still a distant second in the market, with Sony Ericsson, which ranks fourth or fifth in the world depending on the quarter, as by far its largest licensee.
Other vendors on its website include BenQ, which despite its acquisition of the Siemens handset business is still an also-ran, and Motorola. That company’s VP of mobile device software Greg Besio refers to Symbian as a niche play alongside its three-pronged OS strategy, namely Windows Mobile 5.0 for business smart phones, Linux for the mainstream mid-market and AJAR [the OS Motorola got when it bought TTPCom earlier this year] for the mass market feature phone space. The US handset manufacturer last year launched a FOMA handset for NTT DoCoMo’s 3G service in Japan that uses UIQ on Symbian, one of the three platforms supported by DoCoMo for FOMA, but its Linux focus will enable it to address the Japanese operator’s phone requirements with that OS going forward.
Meanwhile Symbian’s ownership of UIQ meant that the Swedish ISV, based in the Soft Center Science Research Park in Ronneby, was thus controlled 47.9% by Symbian’s largest shareholder, Nokia, while Ericsson’s share in Symbian is 15.6% and Sony Ericsson’s 13.1%. Other Symbian shareholders are Panasonic, with 10.5%, Siemens with 8.4% and Samsung with 4.5%.
A spokesperson for Sony Ericsson, which though registered in Sweden has its corporate HQ in London, said that in developing the three phones it has in the market based on the latest version of the UI, version 3.0, the handset manufacturer did a lot of work with UIQ’s own developers and saw a need for a more full-on role, as well as additional investments and focus. Clearly, it also made sense to buy Nokia out of the equation.
That said, she stressed that UIQ will remain as a standalone subsidiary of Sony Ericsson rather than function as an integrated R&D group, and that it will continue to license the technology on fair and equal terms to other handset makers. This strategy makes sense, in that application developers writing to Symbian must take into account the various UIs they need to support, so Sony Ericsson will have a vested interest in getting as many phones using UIQ into the market from other vendors as possible.
Interestingly, UIQ’s trajectory has, in a sense, come full circle, in that it started life as the spun-out developer of a Sony Ericsson platform for stylus-based smart phones called Quartz, in April 1999, at the time called Symbian AB, with the product and the company being renamed in February 2002.