Symbian CEO David Levin has mapped out a trajectory for its smart phone OS that will see it target a potential market of 200 million units by 2008. Speaking at Symbian’s 2004 Expo in London, he said the firm is now ready to attack the handset mass market, aided by the lowering cost of suitable hardware, and the increased desire of mobile operators to tweak handsets to their own requirements.
Software licensing company Symbian has set its sights on the mass mobile market.
The first stage for Symbian was proving the technology. The second stage was to make Symbian phones commercially successful. The next stage is to take Symbian into the mass market, said Mr Levin.
Five million Symbian phones shipped in the first half of 2004, but we have to put that against the size of the overall market of 500 million. In that context our success is at best modest, said Mr Levin. Symbian phones are typically higher end. [But] our estimate for 2003 of handsets that could support an open OS was 59 million. Of those, we sold 6.7 million. In four to five years, something like 200 million phones will have a hardware specification that could run an open OS. That’s what we’re targeting.
The realization of Symbian’s ambitions appears to rest on the convergence of a number of factors. These include reduced hardware costs and the greater flexibility of so-called open handset platforms such as Symbian, which allow for greater customization than is the norm among the proprietary operating systems typically employed on most comparable handsets.
The price of suitable hardware for creating devices based on smart phone platforms such as Symbian looks set to erode steadily over the next few years. According to Mr Levin: The lowest possible specification Symbian smart phone given a generic screen and camera in the first year [of Symbian] could be built for $32. Over the next five years, by 2008-2009, we think the costs of that hardware specification will be just under $18.
While a reduced bill of materials will clearly help grow the addressable market for Symbian-based devices and other smart phones, increasing the proportion of the market that can be captured depends on handset manufacturers choosing to implement the platform instead of their own, often deeply entrenched, proprietary handset OSs. Mr Levin pointed to the ease of customizing the look, feel and functionality of open smart phone OSs, relative to their proprietary rivals, as an incentive to make the transition.
Proprietary OSs are making fairly big assumptions about the market. Each operator now wants to customize. Manufacturers truly find this extremely hard to do. Upwards of 3,000 product requirements to comply with [Vodafone’s content service] Vodafone Live!, for instance. Neither can tools designed to support smart phone users, such as those that allow call center staff to remotely walk users through different functions, be replicated for proprietary OSs, said Mr Levin.
Of those smart phone platforms currently being deployed, Symbian OS looks perhaps the most likely to benefit from these factors. At the end of the third quarter 2004, 27 phones based on the software, from six licensees, were shipping to over 200 operators worldwide with another 40 in development. Adoption is also accelerating. Some five million units shipped in the first half of the year giving a total installed base of Symbian handsets in excess of 15 million.
However, Symbian’s bullishness was tempered somewhat by licensee and shareholder Sony Ericsson. Proprietary OSs have perhaps proved more resilient and long lasting than was expected in the early days of Symbian, said Sony Ericsson president Miles Flint.
Symbian needs to find a way of taking more of the ground that proprietary OSs occupy today if it is to fulfill its dreams. We want to see more licensees [pushing Symbian] and a stronger presence for Symbian in the US.