On Monday, April 20, Panasonic and NEC are expected to unveil nine devices that run on the Linux-powered LiMo operating system. While not much is known about the soon-to-be-announced devices at this time, proponents of open source operating systems will apparently have plenty of cause for celebration in 2009. Current members of the LiMo Foundation include Motorola, NEC, Panasonic, LG and Samsung, though the latter two have yet to unveil a single LiMo device to date. Still, the foundation does have an all-star line-up of carriers backing it up as NTT DoCoMo, Orange, SK Telecom, Telefonica, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone have all announced they will be carrying LiMo devices at some point this year. While there might not be too much to account for at the moment, the LiMo picture is apparently about to get a whole lot clearer.
OpenMoko, maker of the open source handset everyone loves to praise but no one actually wants to buy, has stated it will cease development of new mobile handsets. Citing current economic conditions and a competitive market, OpenMoko CEO Sean Moss-Pultz reportedly made the announcement yesterday at a conference in Switzerland. We can’t exactly place this decision into the shocker category considering end users — and more importantly, manufacturing partners — have been very slow to embrace the handset. Thus far, OpenMoko has only pushed out about 10,000 handsets and no major news as far as manufacturing partners offering customized builds of the phone has come into play. OpenMoko isn’t throwing in the towel just yet, however. The company intends to continue FreeRunner support and it will also commence development of a new product that isn’t a mobile phone. Interesting. With a new mobile OS going open source each day and very little interest in the physical side of OpenMoko’s FreeRunner project (hardware add-ons, customization, etc), we can’t say this is a bad decision on the company’s part.
What do you do when the honeymoon is over and interest in your mobile OS is fading fast? Spin city! In a recent discussion with the New York Times, Microsoft VP of Windows Mobile Todd Peters happily explained that Microsoft has intentions to cut down on the number of Windows Mobile devices that reach the market in the future. Peters’ reasoning for the move:
“I’d rather have fewer devices and be more focused,” he said. That way “we get better integration” between phone and operating system.
Well that’s one way to put it, though we’re not sure shareholders will mirror the sentiment. Another way to put it would be to simply state that the advent of open source mobile operating systems and the fading interest in Microsoft’s aging OS are creating a more competitive market place and Windows Mobile simply isn’t ready to compete at the level it did in years past. Today it’s Android, tomorrow it will be the fruit borne by the Symbian Foundation; handset manufacturers are now beginning to turn toward low-cost open solutions that provide more user-friendly interfaces and welcoming development environments. It remains to be seen whether Windows Mobile 7 will be able to compete as the industry evolves and its already low market share dwindles. We hope it can compete – variety being the spice of life – and rest assured, Microsoft would happily see the number of Windows Mobile-powered devices double despite this recent statement to the contrary. If manufacturers decrease the number of Windows Mobile handsets released in the future however, it won’t be because Microsoft asked them to stop making so many Windows-powered phones. It will be the allure of newer and more usable operating systems that pull handset manufacturers in other directions.
In what has been completely overshadowed by the announcement of the upcoming Nokia N97, Nokia announced today that it has completed its offer to acquire Symbian Limited. For those who don’t recall, Nokia announced back in June that it would be gobbling up the 52% of Symbian it did not already own and going open source. In a quick and dirty press release, Nokia stated that it has purchased 99.9% of Symbian shares it did not already own when the original announcement was made. Nokia handsets might take a while to reach market but don’t ever say the Finns don’t move fast when it comes to acquisitions. Now that the hard part is out of the way, expect the final stages of the deal to be signed, sealed and delivered some time in Q1 of next year. Our sincerest hope is that the newly formed Symbian Foundation can manage to give the aging Symbian OS a much-needed face lift and tummy tuck before it’s too late.
Steve Ballmer has been all over the globe lately. First, he was in South Korea teaming up with LG for a future with Windows Mobile in LG smartphones. This week, he made his way to Australia with those loud, powerful and rather obnoxious words, “Developers, developers, developers!” But the excitement died down quickly when a student at Power to Developers event asked, “Why is IE still relevant and why is it worth spending money on rendering engines when there are open source ones available that can respond to changes in Web standards faster?” Ballmer’s response was that the question was “cheeky, but a good question, but cheeky”. Right, that’s when you know you’ve struck a nerve. After treating the crowd to his usual rant about looking to and anticipating the future, all Ballmer could really say about open-source browsers was that they are “interesting.” Very similar to his feelings about Google’s Android platform.
Open source is interesting. Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8.
So it looks like Microsoft is probably going there, but not all the way there. Catch the drift? Even then, if Microsoft were to show an iota of interest in open source engines like WebKit, it could be huge news for third-party developers and in turn, to end users. We’ll have to wait and see where Microsoft is going with this, but don’t go thinking they’re ready to open up and embrace open source quite yet.
Following Google’s footsteps, Nokia and Symbian are really pushing forward with R&D by taking in several huge companies to gain access to Symbian. Notable companies include ARM, Visa, and Huawei amongst 52 companies that have expressed their interest in joining the Symbian Foundation. With such a huge following, the software and platform potential could create a formidable force to rival Google’s Android OS. Nokia plans on buying out all shareholders of Symbian for $410 million and make their goods royalty-free… way to go, Nokia! Profits from Symbian will go to the Symbian Foundation in order to support its efforts to create an open-source platform. Symbian Foundation software should be making its debut some time in 2009 with a fully operational platform in 2010. It’s nice to see the telecom industry team up with other companies and embrace the open-source nature of things.
OpenMoko, current king of “open” in the mobile world, has just announced that the schematics for its 1973 and shiny new Neo FreeRunner handsets will soon be published and available for the world to customize. That’s right, OpenMoko takes the concept of open source mobiles to an entirely new level by allowing customization beyond third-party software development. The very architecture of the company’s handsets is fair game as developers are invited to engineer integrated instruments or sensors. It will be interesting to see how the global community embraces the concept of open source mobile hardware and even more interesting to see what they come up with. We already told you about Koolu’s plans to integrate features such as a laser-projected virtual keyboard and an LED projector into the Neo FreeRunner and we can’t wait to see this vision realized. Just remember fellas, you have to keep the handset affordable. In terms of framework, the Neo FreeRunner is quite a launching point for development. The Linux-based handset features a 2.8-inch touchscreen, 128MB of RAM, 256MB of internal memory along with a microSDHC slot, integrated GPS, 802.11g WiFi, bluetooth 2.0 and two motion sensors. Developers, the gauntlet has been thrown.
Oooooh Android. Things are not going well for you lately. First the Wall Street Journal reports that your release has been delayed and now Symbian, the most popular Smartphone Operating System in the world, will be opening up. Open?!? That was totally your thing! Well maybe not It’s ok, don’t worry; you’ve still got the Google juice going for you. Nokia has made a few major announcements this morning with regards to the heavyweight title holder that is Symbian. First and foremost, 48% ownership is not going to cut it anymore. Nokia will soon pony up €264 million ($412 million at today’s exchange rate) for the remaining 52% of Symbian to become the sole owner. Then what? Nokia has also announced the formation of a new organization: the Symbian Foundation. Foundation members currently include AT&T (huh?), LG Electronics, Motorola, NTT DOCOMO, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, Vodafone, and more. The foundation will be the backbone of efforts with regards to creating “the most proven, open and complete mobile software platform – available for free”. The acquisition of Symbian is expected to be completed in Q4 of this year and it will likely be at least another year or so before we see the tree bear some fruit. We can’t wait.