In another unexpected development in the cell phone world, British cell phone giant Symbian has partnered with rival Microsoft to deliver email-synchronization software for Microsoft Exchange Server to Symbian devices. The deal emphasizes the importance of cell phone makers addressing the needs of business customers; few people could have imagined Symbian linking up with Microsoft as recently as a year ago. In February, however, the software giant inked a similar deal with Nokia, another major foe in the cell phone market.
"\[The deal with Microsoft\] will level the playing field," Symbian's Vice President of Marketing Simon Garth said. "It's about making people feel that Symbian phones are fully fit for email, mobility, and the enterprise." Before the Symbian and Nokia deals, only certain phones from Motorola and Samsung ran Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS for smart phones, which includes client software for connecting to Exchange-based email and personal information manager (PIM) features.
Now that Symbian and Nokia have access to Exchange through a ported version of ActiveSync, Microsoft says that its Windows Mobile system will continue to compete with rival systems on "the user experience," a nebulous term that roughly describes the devices' UIs and the software that drives them. Motorola and Samsung have a time advantage, however: Symbian phones that include Microsoft's interoperability technology won't be available until 2006.
Terms of the Microsoft and Symbian deal haven't been disclosed. But Symbian wireless devices currently number more than 20 million worldwide, making the deal a monumental one for Microsoft's server division. By comparison, smart phones based on the Microsoft platform have sold only in small amounts and account for less than 1 percent of the overall market.