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Study: Symbian to hang on to smart phone OS lead

The software maker is benefiting from handset vendors' fear of a Microsoft-controlled OS market for cell phones, ABI Research says.

Symbian is expected to retain the top honors in mobile phone software through the decade, despite an emerging threat from Microsoft, according to a study from ABI Research.

Microsoft is battling to be inside the next generation of devices that blend the functions of a phone and a PDA (personal digital assistant), and some analysts have predicted that the software giant will gain a foothold on the market in a couple of years. But, according to a report from ABI released Monday, the company may not find it easy as other companies work to avoid Microsoft dominance in the mobile OS market.

Symbian is co-owned by some of the world's largest mobile phone and wireless infrastructure vendors including Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung. Motorola, Nokia's primary competitor, was also a Symbian shareholder, but decided to migrate to the Microsoft camp because of Nokia's strong ties with Symbian. Meanwhile, Microsoft has snagged deals for its Windows Mobile operating system with Motorola and several other handset providers.

About 98 percent of all cell phones shipped use a proprietary operating system developed by handset makers. The remaining 2 percent--around 10 million handsets--use standardized OS-enabled handsets, and are fought fiercely over by Symbian, Microsoft and Linux developers.

However, as people demand better features such as larger screens and improved menu navigation, the standardized OS will replace proprietary programs, ABI said. A quarter of handsets shipped will either be standard-OS smart phones or connected PDAs by 2009, the research firm predicted.