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RealNetworks Partners with Symbian

RealNetworks (www.realnetworks.com) has announced that it is forming an alliance with Symbian ( www.symbian.com), a maker of mobile operating systems, to include the RealPlayer in future versions of the OS. RealNetworks also became a member of Symbian's Partner program. Financial terms of the deal were not released.

"The mobile marketplace has taken a huge step forward with the commercial release of this groundbreaking mobile media solution, enabled through the combination of the Symbian OS, RealPlayer Mobile and the Nokia 9210 Communicator, providing the first mobile media experience available to business professionals and mainstream consumers," said Mark Edwards, executive vice president, Sales and Marketing, Symbian. "The Symbian OS was designed to enable rich media applications and RealNetworks has delivered a product that highlights the benefits of the operating system."

Symbian’s licensees include Ericsson, Kenwood, Motorola, Nokia, Panasonic, Psion, Sanyo, Siemens and Sony.

RealNetworks also announced that its RealPlayer Mobile is shipping in Nokia's just released 9210 Communicator, available in Europe.

No Streaming on the Nokia 9210

But Peter Zaballos, director of mobile marketing at RealNetworks, said that streaming is not available on the Nokia 9210 with RealPlayer Mobile. The Nokia only supports download and local playback of audio and video.

"The mobile RealPlayer does support streaming and is fully functional," said Zaballos, noting that the limitation is probably with the handset. Furthermore, the Nokia doesn't support Real's latest codecs, just its two-year old RealAudio and RealVideo G2 codecs.

Currently, the RealPlayer Mobile for the 9210 supports RealAudio and Video G2, RealAudio and RealVideo 7 and RealAudio 8. According to a spokesperson, support for RealVideo 8 is in development and will be added at the next major release of RealPlayer Mobile.

These limitations mean that many Nokia 9210 users won't be able to view the majority of Real content, since many companies use newer codecs as soon as they are released. Zaballos also said that there's content on the Internet that may not look very good on the smaller screen of the Nokia phone.

"You need video that's authored to the screen aspect ratio of the phones," he said. "So we're working on the infrastructure side to make an easy and intelligent way to tell [the player] what screen size and resolution." Zaballos did stress, however, that lots of content for modem users (using a 160 by 120 screen) would look good. Mobile content will be available on Real.com, although Zaballos didn't say whether Real would launch a specialized mobile portal site.

"We're working with Nokia to make sure there's great content for users, but in general, in the industry, there's a lot of complexity on the client side, with so many processors and hundreds of configurations," he said. Part of the deal with Symbian is to make it easier to get the RealPlayer in a wide variety of those configurations.

Microsoft is Wireless Too

"It's interesting that they continue to trot out the same old news with Nokia," said Michael Aldridge, lead product manager, Digital Media Division, Microsoft, of Real’s recent announcements. "We have products that are shipping now." He pointed to deals with NTT DoCoMo and its Eggy device, support by Ericsson, as well as deals with chipmakers Intel and Texas Instruments.

The Real-Symbian deal points out the difference between the PDA and wireless handset markets. Microsoft, as the maker of the Windows CE operating system, already has its Windows Media player for the PocketPC devices. In fact, says Aldridge, last month it released version 7.1 of the player, with support for the Windows Media audio codecs and even MP3. He also pointed to a demo by Bill Gates, showing off the upcoming Stinger phone that uses streaming media.

PDA vs. Handsets

"There are two schools competing for attention: the handset space and the PDA space," said Aldridge. "Handsets are taking on more PDA and Internet functionality while PDAs with computing power are trying to acquire more phone functionality. Really it's up to the consumer to decide. We're focused on both."

Aldridge said that the richest wireless media is emerging on PDAs first, which are already multimedia ready and can use broadband connections like Ricochet. The handset space has more issues to deal with, including processing power and 3G broadband rollout.

RealNetworks, meanwhile, hasn't touched the PDA space. Has Real approached Microsoft to make a version for the PocketPC platform? "Nothing's stopping them," said Aldridge. "It's up to them. Other people are [creating] digital media players."

"I can't talk about our relationship with Microsoft," said Zaballos with Real. The issue comes down to sheer numbers, he said. "The whole [PDA] market is so much smaller than the market for 2.5G and 3G phones. We're not ignoring PDA, but we're going after the largest market first." He pointed to numbers forecasting 1.2 billion portable next generation phones by 2004, with only 20 million mobile PDAs.

Is RealNetworks missing out on the PDA market? "We're working with the largest provider of mobile phones, with almost twice the market share over its nearest competitors. To us, we're not losing out on anything," said Zaballos.

Plus, there are other competitors out there, like ActiveSky, PacketVideo and Emblaze, which are primarily supporting MPEG-4 streaming. Aldridge didn't sound concerned. "[PacketVideo] can't even match our compression — MPEG-4 is 3 years old," he said.

The Quest for Content

Still, the search for suitable mobile content is still on. Zaballos said music would likely be the application to drive the mobile media space. "Audio will exceed expectations more quickly," he said. "Phone handsets are audio centric devices." At the same time, he said video applications will be important and a visible portion of the industry.

Zaballos believes that RealNetworks has an edge because of its content offerings with GoldPass. "We have six and a half years of data in enabling the desktop," said Zaballos. "We know that the single greatest factor in driving usage is a good consumer experience."

"These activities are marshaled around broad support for RealPlayer in next generation handsets," said Zaballos. Closer to home, he said that Nokia will be bringing a version of the 9210 to U.S. in the second half of next year.

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