When Simon East quit his job as the technology boss of Symbian, the smart phone operating system venture, to launch a rival start-up, many of his colleagues thought he had taken leave of his senses.
"They said I must be absolutely mad to leave," admits the 35-year-old former software engineer, "but I really did think the devices we were trying to create [at Symbian] were just too complex and expensive for the mass market."
That was in March 2000. Now, more than two years on, East's criticisms of Symbian appear justified. Meanwhile, his new company is finally poised to begin trials of its first products with several operators ahead of a planned launch in 2003.
East, founder and CEO of London-based Cognima, believes he can bring the benefits of high-speed mobile data services to the masses. His company aims to provide
European network operators with cost-effective service delivery platforms and consumer applications, such as games and instant messaging, that operators can install on a handset and a server and brand as their own.
It may sound a familiar proposition. But East insists that his company's focus on consumers – as opposed to the business sector – sets it apart from rivals. Another departure is that personal information, such as address books and calendars, can be stored on a server as well as the devices themselves – a popular service for anyone who has ever lost a mobile phone.
The biggest challenge faced so far has been persuading potential investors of the merits of Cognima's business model. "It has been a hard process to raise the money – we are doing something that is slightly ahead of the curve and some people do not understand it at first." Yet in May 2002, Cognima secured equity investment of $5 million (EU5.3m) from Atlas Ventures, TLcom and TTP Ventures.
The next challenges will be even bigger. Cognima's sales people must persuade Europe's hard-pressed network operators not only to licence yet more platforms and applications, but also to throw out the received wisdom that, for the foreseeable future at least, only business people will pay for high-speed data services. East's experience and contacts book from his days with Symbian may come in handy.