After delays on the part of the much awaited Android (see my original take on that here), one of the “other” Linux Mobile initiatives, namely the LiMo Foundation announced the release of its first version (“R1″) on schedule for March. The beta version of the respective APIs is available on their website immediately. They also said there would be sneak previews of all the good things at next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and I will be sure to check it out!
The LiMo Foundation, which is backed by an impressive number of industry heavyweights (quite a few of which are also members of the Open Handset Alliance, the maker of Android), seems to be moving swiftly ahead, and their platform is, in their own words, basically the following:
“The LiMo Platform—leveraging standards and open-source projects—is a modular, plug-in-based, hardware-independent architecture built around an open operating system, with a secure run-time environment for support of downloaded applications. Linux was selected as the core technology for the LiMo Platform for its acceptability by the whole mobile industry, its rich functionality and scalability, its record of success in embedded systems and mobile phones and its potential to easily “cross-platformize” with other product categories.” Middleware components for the platform can apparently be implemented in either C or C++ programming languages.
What seems noteworthy is that the good folks at the foundation seem to have managed to leverage the substantial resource of its members. Its chairman praised “the transparent, balanced and harmonious contribution process [...].”
Just before Christmas, the third consortium, LiPS, had announced that its first release was now complete.
However, it would appear of not so much being a race of who is first but of who manages to deploy on most devices. Given the membership of the three consortia comprises most of the big players (with the notable absence of Nokia although its recently acquired Trolltech is a member of the LiMo Foundation; read the excellent analysis on that deal here), one might ask if would not be perhaps the best idea to merge the whole thing, and deploy one common platform. Wouldn’t that have real impact?
Now there’s been a lot of talk about Linux Mobile recently, with all that Google‘s or rather the Open Handset Alliance‘s Android stuff floating around (see e.g. here and here), and the good folks who aim to push this operaing system are quite naturally busy to ride the wave of excitement and attention over this (and are always very keen to stress that Android is a welcome addition to the forces rather than a bad competitor). LiPS is one of two consortia besides Android (the other being the LiMo Foundation) who intend to further the footprint of Linux in mobile, too.
And, just in time for Christmas, LiPS (whose members include Orange, France Telecom, MontaVista and Access) now has released its first specification. Well, to be honest, it is only the second half of what was already released in June but, hey, now it is complete: it provides APIs for telephony, messaging, calendar, instant messaging and presence functions, as well as – unspecified – “new user interface components.” LiPS stresses that it wants to allow developers to develop applications that will work on all phones under the standard, and from that point of view the voice API should be particularly interesting (voice-controlled games? Ah!).
Unlike its “competitor” (compatriot might be the better word) however, there have been no news on any handsets developed under that specification yet. The LiMo Foundation scored first-line honours here with NTT DoCoMo recently announcing its impressively spec’ed P905i (by Panasonic; using the Viera brand – see here for similar use of brands) and N905i (by NEC) handsets released under the LiMo Foundation specs (see for a showcase of the FOMA 905i series here and here).
A lot of action happening, and good stuff, too! Now, bundle your resources, folks, and conquer!
Verizon‘s U-turn continues: the carrier now announced that they would support the Android OS promoted by the Google-led Open Handset Alliance. This comes only days after Verizon was met with a lot of raised eyebrows after it declared it would open up to handset manufacturers, service and application providers. Upon the launch of Android, Verizon was amongst a select few that were visibly reluctant to support the initiative, reportedly for fear of impinging on their customer base by not being able to control the user experience.
This move may well be an attempt to prevent Google from bidding in the 700 MHz spectrum, the auction for which goes ahead tonight: Google may not see the necessity to bid just as aggressively if it can basically fall back on an OS-agnostic carrier as it can then continue doing what it does best, namely sell ads. The proximity of the dates may indeed point into that direction.
Verizon Wireless had created the most profitable U.S. cellular business by tightly restricting the devices and applications allowed to run on its network. However, its management apparently now came to conclude that it was time for a radical shift: this will have been out of fear to be isolated in a niche when the rest of the market was overrun by new, more powerful devices as well as media empires old and new both of which would bring a richness of offerings mid-term that Verizon could not have supported within the constraints of its tightly-controlled environment.
It may also have thought that opening up would help them to keep growing while containing costs; probably a bit of everything. That last bit is of course one of the reasons that led many partners to throw their weight behind the various OS campaigns that recently appeared to have picked up pace: the LiMo Foundation, C-based Nokia-owned OS Symbian and the Sony Ericsson and Motorola-owned UIQ (in which Motorola had just acquired a 50% stake; see here) will also be driven by the OEM’s attempt to contain cost. Unified OS make mass production much cheaper (and the famously robust Linux kernel also will allow stability whilst being flexible enough to allow enough flavours to keep every marketing and UI expert happy, too).
Everyone coming to their senses? Oh, brave new world.
So, no GPhone — yet. Google, with quite a number of partners, today announced the already much-rumoured “Open Handset Alliance” under which a Linux-based OS, nicknamed Android has been launched (the SDK will allegedly be available in a week’s time). Here’s a video explaining the deep thoughts of the creators (be quick: YouTube has removed it already…).
The whole industry had been waiting for this, and Google seems to have come up with a black-white thing: it goes back to its roots in open source but overlays it with Java, which has caused the content community a lot of headaches (every mobile phone translates it slightly differently, so one needs a gazillion ports). However, Google has teamed up with no less than 34 partners for the launch alone, including such giants as China Mobile, KDDI, Sprint Nextel, TIM, T-Mobile, Motorola (who seem to be dancing on a lot of weddings recently: UIQ and Linux Mobile are also on their plates), Samsung, HTC, Intel and eBay.
So what does it all mean? According to the members of the alliance, it will be better, bigger, faster for everyone: open source means more applications, less bugs and less cost. According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, it is “a fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future.” Commentators note that there is apparently one caveat: you’ll have to use Google for navigation. Now: does that bother anyone? Give me Internet on my phone on broadband speed and I happily surf with whoever gives it to me, I’d say. To enact a platform, supported by a lot of sector muscle, that makes the developers’ life easier should be good for everyone indeed as it will undoubtedly bring more usage. Traditionally, carriers feared for the consistency of the user experience. Apparently, Verizon and AT&T have already voiced such concerns also here although the explanation sounds defensive at best: they fear too much advertising. Would it be safe to say they rather fear loss of control?
Quite a few companies have tried to take on mobile as the next frontier and quite a few fared rather miserably on the complexities of the environment presented by the sector (Disney’s MVNO attempts, Infospace and a few others spring to mind). With Google’s might this might be about to change though. A fresh breeze and a unified development platform would, in any event, be a good thing.
Interesting though that, as in recent releases on OS-driven initiatives, Nokia is again absent. This is not promising any good in terms of unifying the landscape, it seems. However, both Linux Mobile (on which Android is apparently based) and Symbian (in which Nokia holds a huge stake and which it intends to make its platform of choice) are C++-based. And that would be easing development pains after all: much easier to deal with than the Java layers, which until now were statutory but might only be optional going forth.
UPDATE 7 Nov 2007: Nokia has said its participation in Android is “not ruled out at all”. It would work with it if it would see sense. Now, a convincing statement sounds differently but it IS noteworthy that the Finnish giant felt the need to comment on it so quickly.
US handset maker Motorola acquired half the shares in UIQ, the smartphone software unit, from Sony Ericsson. Sony Ericsson had bought UIQ from handset OS maker Symbian last year. UIQ is essentially a graphic interface adding components to the Symbian OS. Symbian in turn is 47.9% owned by Nokia. Under UIQ, native programming can be made in C++ although the software does support the – in the mobile games space – ubiquitous J2ME standard. Motorola’s new flagship Z8 (nicknamed “MotoRzr” as in “riser”) is running on it already. The battle of the OS giants begins…
It is an interesting move since Moto has been the most active OEM for the use of Linux Mobile: it has released a whole range of phones for the open source OS featuring the penguin. It is also one of the founding fathers of the LiMo Foundation, an initiative it embarked on together with industry heavyweights NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone, Samsung, NEC and Panasonic (and which was recently joined by LG, McAfee, Broadcom, Ericsson and others). Now, I understand that Linux and C++ work together but must admit that my knowledge is more than limited here. It is in any event noteworthy that Motorola goes with a UI based on Symbian rather than straight-forward Linux. Motorola was quick to state that UIQ would only be “one of the actions to support [a] strategy” adding more investment in multimedia product segments.
With hundreds of millions in development cost at stake, it is probably too early to tell but it certainly is a new twist in the quest to uproot Nokia‘s top position with the Symbian s60 platform. So, what’s next?