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Group offers glimpse of upcoming wireless tech

A group of leading cell phone manufacturers is giving U.S. developers a sneak peak of the future of wireless and handheld technologies.

A group of leading cell phone manufacturers is giving U.S. developers a sneak peak of the future of wireless and handheld technologies.

Symbian, a joint venture that includes Psion, Motorola, Sweden?s Ericsson, Finland?s Nokia and Japan?s Matsushita, opened their developers? conference in Santa Clara, Calif. today with a glimpse of new software, applications and development tools for wireless devices. It is the first time the group has pitched their technology to developers here in the United States.

The Symbian group plans to develop wireless products around Psion's EPOC operating system for the next generation of smart cell phones and Net-ready handheld computers.

In addition to technical sessions and business presentations, the group plans to demonstrate prototypes for new cellular devices and technology.

Executives from Symbian, IBM and Qualcomm are scheduled to address wireless developers today at the conference. Symbian will explain its plans for the EPOC operating system, and the reference design for its wireless information device in the works, code-named Quartz.

Also today, IBM and the wireless group jointly announced a development agreement aimed at creating wireless applications for Symbian cell phones and devices. The alliance will work on developing applications that allow users to access data from corporate networks and the Internet without being plugged in, according to the companies.

As the market for wireless devices grows worldwide, developers of the technology are all jockeying for position in what is expected to be a very lucrative market. Industry analysts have said that gradually, wireless devices could replace personal computers as the preferred method to access Net-based information.

The number of wireless device users is expected to jump 728 percent from 7.4 million in 1999 to 61.5 million by 2003 in the United States alone, according to research from International Data Corp.

IBM's endorsement of the Symbian technology is spurred by the fact that the EPOC operating system is "on 85 percent of (wireless) devices," according to Jon Prial, director of marketing for IBM's pervasive computing group. Prial added that the first products from the alliance should be released soon.

"What we want to really do is advance the state of the art of the applications that are being done," he added.

The jointly developed applications will most likely be geared for corporations, to push sales force automation and customer service tools to employees who use wireless handheld devices on the job.

"Now you can get more information down to the device, which is where the job is done," he said.

Eventually, the technology will be used to bring information stored locally on a cell phone to a network, so users can access their address book or calendar information anywhere.

"Today, the address books are local to the telephone…But what people want is their names and addresses on the network, so they can easily move it to their cellular device or the screen on their refrigerator or in their car," Prial said.

Symbian?s mission is promote wireless technology by advocating technology standards and interoperability between manufacturers. But as the lines blur between Net-ready cell phones (or ?smart? phones) and personal digital assistants with Web capabilities, the group's role in the competitive wireless market has grown somewhat vague.

Recent deals have underlined the changing nature of the competitive landscape in the wireless market. Microsoft partnered with Ericsson for wireless Web devices, even though Microsoft is essentially a competitor to Symbian. Palm Computing also struck a deal with Nokia to use Symbian technology in Palm handheld devices.