Symbian puts graphics, network improvements in OS

Symbian is adding a new graphics architecture as well as enhanced networking capabilities in its mobile OS.

Symbian is adding a new graphics architecture as well as enhanced networking capabilities to its mobile OS, the company's CEO said this week.

The graphics acceleration technology, called ScreenPlay, is "miserly" in terms of power usage, said Nigel Clifford, during a keynote speech at the Symbian Smartphone Show in London.

ScreenPlay allows for a layered effect, where different applications can deliver information and graphics on one screen. It's designed for the delivery of high-definition video, gaming and animated interfaces, Clifford said. On low-end devices, the effects are delivered through software while in higher-end devices the OS can use advanced hardware features that deliver graphics faster.

The improvements come from a graphics composition engine within the OS, which blends how different software applications present themselves, said David Wood, executive vice president of research for Symbian. It gives users more context to their applications, as well as a 3-D experience within the graphics, he said.

It will be up to Nokia and UIQ Technology, the companies that make the user interfaces for the Symbian OS, to take advantage of the improvements, he said.

ScreenPlay is not using any more power due to careful analysis of the OS, with engineers looking for way to rewrite the code to save power. Clifford said battery life is only increasing about 8 percent a year, but the demands for power is far outpacing those increases each year.

"This sounds a bit daft, but there's a lot you can do with software," Wood said. "With that, we can get better graphics performance without better hardware."

Symbian also introduced FreeWay, an IP (Internet Protocol) networking architecture that Clifford said will allow for seamless switching between high-speed networks such as 3G (third generation) and WiMax. The aim is for "crystal-clear VOIP (voice over IP) calls, Clifford said.

FreeWay allows a user who is listening to a streamed song to start playing the track over Wi-Fi, switch to a 3G network when out of Wi-Fi range and then transfer to their wireless broadband connection at home without interruption, Clifford said.

Symbian said that FreeWay would allow a user to download an MP3 music file, which is typically a few megabytes worth of data, in "seconds" due to its high bandwidth allowance.

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