Intel is building a Symbian-based mobile phone, based on Nokia's Series 60 user interface. The company has not announced a delivery date, but a reference platform should arrive sometime in 2005, intended to make it easy for manufacturers to turn out Symbian smartphones quickly. The choice of Symbian is apparently a no-brainer.

"Windows products are strong in the PDA space, on the application processing side of our business, but in the pure communications space Symbian is the leader," said Eric Anderson, director of platform planning, cellular and handheld group at Intel (whose ten-word job title, sent to us by SMS, is clearly designed to boost the sales of mobile devices with large colour screens, like Series 60 phones). "Intel supports all operating systems, including Windows, Linux and Palm, but Symbian is definitely the leader in this space."

Both Intel and Symbian are investing money in the reference design: both said how interesting it was to see the other investing in a reference platform, while stressing that their own commitment was not exclusive. "It is the first time Symbian is investing in a reference platform, and it is doing it with Intel," said Anderson. "It proves Intel is now a leading player in the cellular eco-system."

Symbian spokesman Peter Bancroft stressed that the three-layer reference design would continue the traditional separation of operating system from user interface and hardware, so the deal does not represent any closer ties between the Symbian OS and Intel, or Nokia's Series 60, which is just one of several alternative UIs. "We are UI agnostic," he said. With Intel yet to prove itself fully in this area, Symbian is also sensibly remaining chip agnostic.

The reference design is to get innovation into users' hands quickly, not to stifle differentiation, said Anderson. "Complexity in 3G devices is coming quickly," he said. "There are incredibly powerful things in people's pockets - we need to customise and produce them very quickly, without re-doing the basic phone model."

The design, based on Intel's Hermon/Xscale processors, should be delivered sometime in 2005, though both Intel and Symbian did not commit to any timetable. The devices will be Intel's first Symbian phones, said Anderson. "The deal is significant inasmuch as it represents Symbian moving forward in delivering the operating system into mid-tier low-cost devices," said Bancroft. "Integration with the hardware will reduce the effort required to develop a Symbian OS phone, so handset makers can focus on technologies for the user."

Earlier this year, the Series 60 UI platform looked like taking a more important role, as Nokia looked like taking over Symbian. This was averted through deals with Symbian sponsors, and Series 60 co-exists with Symbian spin-off UIQ and NTT DoCoMo's FOMA. Intel has also joined the Series 60 Product Creation Community, along with other Series 60 supporters include Lenovo, LG Electronics, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, Sendo and Siemens.