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Symbian DevZone - The Motorola A920 - An Interview with Bob Schukai

by Richard Bloor

The A920 is Motorolaís first Symbian product, however it has arrived as Motorola have sold their equity share in Symbian and also launched a Microsoft powered phone creating much speculation that they are abandoning Symbian and embracing Microsoft. This week Richard talks with Bob Schukai, Director of 3G products in EMEA for Motorola to find out whether the A920 could be the first and last Symbian product from Motorola.

The Motorola A920 is 3ís flagship phone providing advanced multimedia capabilities that take full advantage of their high speed 3G network. Yet while it was being launched Motorola were arranging to exit as shareholders in Symbian, and the week after also launched a phone based on Microsoftís operating system. To find out a little more about the A920 and how Motorola now views Symbian OS Richard recently spoke to Bob Schukai EMEA Director of 3G products for Motorola.

WDN: Back in 2000 Motorola started the Odin joint project with Psion to build a UIQ phone, which was abandoned in 2001, does the A920 owe any heritage to that project?
Bob: That was actually one of my projects and I guess the answer to your question is yes and no. Yes to the extent that we had a core team of people who had worked on that program, who had built up Symbian experience and that entire group carried over into the A920 program. There were a lot of reasons why the Odin project never came off, but there were a lot of lessons that we learned from it and these were things which we were able to bring to 3 when we started on the A920 project. But "no" in the sense that the A920 was not the Odin product reborn.

WDN: In terms of the lessons learned, what key ones did you carry into the A920 project?
Bob: To be honest it was some time ago and I can not recall any specifics. I do know that when 3 were explaining to us their core use cases and how they wanted to create a flagship product built around multimedia, the subject of operating system came up - what to use, what not to use - it was clear that Symbian offered the best multimedia capability of any operating system out and shipping at the time. Microsoft was really not in the game. Palm was getting some traction, and we had made some announcements around Palm but nothing came of them.

WDN: So it was a collaborative decision to go with Symbian OS, it was not Motorola pushing Symbian or 3 asking for Symbian?
Bob: The entire program start to finish has been collaborative, I donít think any of the parties came to the table with preconceived notions of what this phone would or would not be. Certainly there was some interest in the work we had done on the Odin program and the fact we were able to show some working units will certainly have put some ideas in the mind of 3.

WDN: So from your perspective what are the phones key features?
Bob: For Motorola itís a milestone as it is our first video telephony product and that is very much a core-selling proposition for 3. I think memory card capability is great, people who want to use the phone as an MP3 player or get multimedia from the web will find it useful. I also think Symbian OS has a great unified messaging box, easy to use on the handset. However last but by no means least there are some capabilities on the phone which 3 will be taking advantage of before the end of the year, particularly around the built in AGPS receiver. Also if you look on the back of the A920 you will see a cover that you can pop off and plug in a car kit, but its also a plug for an external GPS antenna. So this phone wonít have any issues seeing satellite signals from inside a car and we will be introducing something to take advantage of that soon.

WDN: Obviously one of the things which has caused quite a lot of discussion is the fact that 3 have chosen to lock down the phone to prevent 3rd party apps being loaded, whatís your perspective on that move?
Bob: I think that when you are working with an open operating system one of the advantages is the developer community and the value they add to a handset through applications and games. However when you are selling a certain kind of experience, such as 3 are, you may want to vet applications to ensure they fit with the experience you want to create. So I understand where 3 are coming from, but I donít believe they will leave it a closed box forever.

WDN: The A920 has arrived at an interesting time with Motorola making decisions around the relationship with Symbian. If you were starting the A920 project now, would it have resulted in the same operating system being used?
Bob: Yes I honestly believe we would still make the same operating system decision. From Motorolaís point of view this whole operating system thing is really been blown out of proportion. Iíll explain why. When we started talking about our 2003 products earlier this year we stated that we were really going to focus on Java as the core application space for developers with Linux as our underlying real-time operating system, but that when and where it made sense, we would look at alternatives.
We see ourselves primarily as operating system agnostic, our goal is rather more about getting Java to work across all operating systemís. So when you look at the Symbian situation we are not walking away from being Symbian licensees, but because our product portfolio embraces several operating systems having an equity stake in Symbian did not make sense as it did not benefit our whole portfolio. It simply makes sense to employ that money where it more broadly benefits our portfolio.
So while we have announced a Microsoft based product it is very much a spot decision to fulfil a specific client business objective, and we certainly wonít be abandoning Symbian in this part of our portfolio. There is no product to replace Symbian OS for certain applications, we have experience in the platform, a good software baseline and to throw it all out would be a waste.
Why wonít we use Symbian more widely? Well we donít see the need to bear the cost of a Symbian or a Microsoft in every single box. The last time I checked Linux was pretty cheap, if not free. OK you have got some costs for some applications but the operating system is royalties free. So why should we pay for operating system capabilities when our focus is really to drive Java.

WDN: So does that mean all your projects are now customer driven?
Bob: Certainly we are taking the collaborative approach more often than not. We are interested in helping our operator customers find differentiation. So we will sit down with them, look at the target product for segment and consumer, identify what their current portfolio lacks and look for ways to fill those gaps. If the solution then looks like it needs a Symbian or a Microsoft we will then bring them in as the operating system supplier.

WDN: So do you expect to build more Symbian OS based devices?
Bob: We are very happy with the A920, how it looks and runs, the flexibility of UIQ to give 3 a UI they are happy with, and the initial feedback is pretty positive. We clearly have Symbian experience now and the operating system has attributes which I know will appeal to our customers for certain applications so the A920 is certainly not the last Symbian product we will build.

About the WDN Symbian Editor, Richard Bloor:
Richard Bloor is a freelance writer and editor with 18 years experience in the IT industry as a developer, analyst and latterly Project Manager with a particularly focus on software testing. Richard has been involved with the Symbian OS since 1995 and has been writing about it for the last 3 years.

Richard is also an associate with System Architecture consultancy Equinox of Wellington, New Zealand.

Richard can be reached at

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