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11/9/2006
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Sony Ericsson, Vodafone Make Separate Smartphone Partnerships

Sony Ericsson is making an acquisition to beef up support for "push" wireless e-mail and multimedia apps, while Vodafone is partnering with Microsoft to create new applications and content compatible with Windows Mobile.

The race for the best operating system on smartphones heated up this week with newly-formed partnerships between some of the biggest players in mobile communications. All promise customers choice of devices and capabilities, but it's yet to be determined who will deliver.

Sony Ericsson has its sights set on rolling out future smartphones with popular features like "push" wireless e-mail, Internet browsing, and multimedia apps. The cell phone maker this week said it plans to acquire UIQ Technology AB, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Symbian, the world's largest mobile platform provider. UIQ Technology, which uses the Symbian OS, licenses the UIQ user interface and application development platform to mobile phones makers. Sony Ericsson is already a licensee of UIQ with several phones on the market using the platform, including the latest Sony Ericsson P990 smartphone.

Once the acquisition is complete, UIQ Technology will operate as a separate subsidiary of Sony Ericsson. Sony Ericsson says UIQ's platform will allow it to strengthen the capabilities and services available on smartphones that use UIQ and the Symbian OS. Sony Ericsson doesn't have a large presence in smartphones, making up only 3% of the worldwide market in Q3 of this year, according to consulting and market analysis firm Canalys. Meanwhile, Symbian is the smartphone OS leader with 67% of the worldwide market share, followed by Microsoft with 15%, and RIM with 6%. By acquiring a subsidiary of Symbian, Sony Ericsson could get the push it needs to compete with the big players in the space, including Nokia and RIM.

Vodafone has a similar plan in the works. The mobile telecom company signed an agreement with Microsoft last week to develop software for creating a breadth of new applications and content on smartphones. The companies say they'll work to ensure that Vodafone's applications and services are tightly integrated with the Windows Mobile platform, Microsoft's operating system for smartphones and Pocket PCs. Over the next five years, Vodafone plans to support three standard smartphone platforms: Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Symbian/ S60, and Linux. The first smartphone to use software produced by Vodafone and Microsoft will be developed by Samsung and launched in the first half of 2007. The smartphones will come with PC connectivity and multimedia features, according to Samsung.

Last year, 5.2 million smartphones were shipped in the U.S. and an additional 3.7 million smartphones will be shipped in the first half of this year, forecasts research firm IDC. While smartphones initially showed up in offices through personal use for sporadic access to e-mail and the Internet, their ability to interact with business applications has made them a popular productivity tool among businesspeople. Sony Ericsson and Vodafone are taking advantage of the thriving market, but they'll need to be innovative with the features and services that they roll out going forward in order to win customers in the space.

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