Symbian boosts security and enterprise apps

More security, more customization--Symbian hopes it's a formula that will take its operating system to the big time.

Graeme Wearden Special to CNET News.com
3 min read
Symbian launched the latest version of its smart-phone operating system on Wednesday, promising stronger security, more customization and enhancements for enterprise customers.

Phones based on OS v9 are expected to be released in the second half of this year, and Symbian is hoping this new operating system will help it to crack the mass market.

Peter Bancroft, Symbian's vice president of market communications, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday morning that OS v9 would help manufacturers create more specialized devices for niche groups such as mobile workers, gamers or people fond of multimedia services.

Symbian wasn't able to release details of forthcoming OS v9 phones, but it's possible that the plans could include the first Symbian phones based on Intel chips.

In October, Intel announced that it was developing a reference platform for Symbian 3G phones. Bancroft confirmed on Wednesday that Intel's reference platform was compatible with OS v9.

While operators might be considering segmenting their phones to cater to increasingly focused market niches, that won't automatically mean a whole flood of new user interfaces hitting the market, according to the software maker.

Bancroft said it's unlikely that many new user interfaces will emerge given the expense, research and development time needed, but added, "Who knows what the market will come up with?"

OS v9 contains device management facilities that Symbian claims will make it much easier for mobile operators and IT staff to manage phones remotely. It will allow them to diagnose problems over the air, to install new applications and to audit the applications installed on the phone.

"It's great to be able to deploy phones with more functionality, but the difficulty is this can generate greater support costs," Bancroft said.

Other enterprise-friendly enhancements include better support for Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), which allows mobile devices access e-mail more efficiently. OS v9 will also let mobile workers use the group scheduling features in Lotus Notes and Outlook to do things such as accept meeting requests remotely.

Symbian OS v9 isn't binary-compatible with previous versions of the operating system, so the vast majority of existing applications will need to be adapted to work on it. While this means work for developers to port their applications to the new version, Symbian believes the increase in security this brings makes it worth it.

The security makeover in the Symbian OS v9 is aimed at protecting your handheld and the data stored on it. To stop malicious software along the lines of the Cabir virus, OS v9 will restrict an application's ability to access data and services it shouldn't, based on a digital signature. The OS gives and withholds permission for applications to access "sensitive" capabilities, including making a call or Web connection, or accessing personal information. Each application's signature will specify which features it's allowed to use, and no others will be permitted. Another feature called Data Caging prevents one application from accessing the data of another.

"You don't want an application that says one thing and does another--that's what Trojans do," Bancroft said.

The infection methods used by viruses haven't proved a threat so far, according to Bancroft. "There just aren't enough phones, and Bluetooth doesn't extend far enough," he added.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK and Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.