Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Nokia Oyj, the world’s largest maker of mobile phones, will add swiping and wireless identification features in updates to its new line of Symbian smartphones to compete with Google Inc.’s fast-developing Android platform.
“The biggest threat and biggest opportunity is our ability to keep Symbian fresh and interesting,” Jo Harlow, senior vice president for smartphones at the Espoo, Finland-based company, said in an interview. Near-field communication, which permits users to use their phones as credit cards, transit passes and hotel room keys, will come to “some existing devices” early next year, she said.
Nokia has been slow to incorporate all the desired features into the first release of Symbian 3 because it took time to shift to the Qt programmer toolset and adapt functions it planned for a separate product family called Symbian 4, Harlow said. Her division has increased the number of common features in its smartphones this year and reduced fragmentation.
“In the past if you bought a device, you got one or two software updates,” she said. “We will now begin to deliver software updates more frequently and more of them. Visually, you’ll see some significant upgrades coming, to keep the experience of the device fresh and new for the consumer.”
New Chief Executive Officer Stephen Elop unveiled last month plans to cut 1,800 jobs globally in areas including in smartphones as it moves to a common Symbian development path and shares some functions with the new high-end device platform called MeeGo that it’s developing with Intel Corp.
The process is being further streamlined as Nokia absorbs the activities that were formerly done externally at the multivendor Symbian Foundation.
Nokia announced yesterday that the London-based foundation, which had more than 150 vendors as members, will be converted to a licensing body. Its other functions will become part of developers’ work and it won’t have a separate paid staff.
Samsung Electronics Co. and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications Ltd., which were board members of the Symbian Foundation, shifted their new products to Android as that platform took off, boosted by its vendor-independent application store and regular software upgrades. That reduced their commitment to take responsibility for more of the approximately 100 “packages” or functions in Symbian.
“The original vision was going to be that the package owners would be spread among a number of companies so you would have had 20 percent of them at Nokia, 20 percent at Sony Ericsson, 20 percent at Samsung -- that didn’t happen,” said Tim Holbrow, executive director of the Symbian Foundation, in an interview. “We had one or two outside Nokia but the main part was still inside Nokia.”
Nokia’s Ovi Store, the only large Symbian-specific application store, currently has 2.7 million downloads a day, Harlow said. The faster, high-resolution touchscreens are attracting “premium games” developers such as Rovio Mobile Ltd., the maker of “Angry Birds,” she said.
Nokia will upgrade its touchscreen text input on Symbian 3 to include split screen, a portrait mode keyboard, and the Swype system for typing connected letter groups, Harlow said.
More than 50 modifications based on early user feedback are planned to roll out to current users early next year.
The C7 model now on sale already has the hardware for NFC, which allows customers to use their handsets for payments and identification at points of sale and access, she said. She wouldn’t comment on whether the other Symbian 3 models had the NFC components.
“NFC is a portfolio play, not a single-device play,” she said. “It works when everyone has it.”
The new Symbian 3 devices, N8, C6 and C7 “are still in ramp-up stage in a number of different countries,” Harlow said, adding that the company had record preorders for the N8. The E7, a business touchscreen with a slide-out keyboard, will ship by the end of the year, she said, declining to give an exact date.
Nokia plans to drive Symbian smartphone prices lower and compete at 120 euros ($167) “and below,” Harlow said. She cited the ability of Symbian handsets to store and navigate maps offline and the ability to pay for apps by phone bill instead of credit card as ways that Nokia is appealing to consumers with less money to spend on smartphones.
Some other handset vendors are still working with Symbian. Japan’s NTT Docomo Inc. this week announced 11 new smartphones running a version of Symbian called Symbian 2, according to an e-mailed statement from the Symbian Foundation.
To contact the reporter on this story: Diana ben-Aaron in Helsinki at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Vidya Root in Paris at email@example.com