The LiMo Foundation unleashed seven new Linux-based mobile phones Aug. 4, pressuring Google and the Open Handset Alliance to create handsets based on the Linux-based Android mobile operating system.
The phones, forged from the open-source LiMo Platform, are: Motorola's Motozinet ZN5; FOMA N906i, FOMA N906i, FOMA N906iL and FOMA N706i from NEC; and the FOMA P906i and FOMA P706i from Panasonic Mobile Communications. These devices join the 14 handsets LiMo unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February.
The Web-based phones come in the wake of Apple's successful iPhone, which now has millions of users who have come to expect the same Web experience on a handheld device that they've gotten on a desktop computer.
Groups such as LiMo and the Symbian Foundation and companies such as Google are working hard to create open-source alternatives to devices based on the proprietary Apple, RIM and Microsoft Windows Mobile platforms. LiMo claims its new devices will help users search the Web faster and use other Web applications with greater efficiency.
Of the new phones, the lone model available now in the United States is the Motozine ZN5. Essentially an uber camera/phone, this device uses imaging technology from Kodak and has 4 gigabytes of memory for storing photos. Users slide the lens cover to transform the camera back to a phone. Maemo is already in this space thanks to the patronage of Nokia; Moblin will benefit from tight integration with Atom and Intel's drive; and LiMo is actively being positioned for this market. The flexibility, customization and very positive cost comparison to Windows Mobile looks set to ensure that Linux takes the leading role in this market.
The new FOMA phones from NEC and Panasonic are currently only available in Japan, where they run on NTT Docomo's 3G network. These gadgets leverage international roaming capabilities, GPS (Global Positioning System), mobile TV and full-featured video playback, mobile payment and advanced mail features.
LiMo Foundation Executive Director Morgan Gillis said in a statement that smart phones are a sign of things to come. Presumably, he means particularly in the United States. Japan remains the dominant mobile Internet phone consuming country in the world while Internet-based phone adoption in the United States greatly lags behind countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific.
LiMo hopes its open source-based phones will follow the iPhone's path of success. Google wishes similar success for its Android mobile OS, though phones based on the complete mobile stack aren't slated to see daylight until the end of the year--assuming Google's programmers and phone manufacturer partners can make their deadlines.
There has been speculation that Google Android advocates are struggling with this, but Google has denied the assertion.
However, the company also ticked off programmers by first offering a new SDK to only 50 leading Android developers, so there are signs the company isn't always on the same page as the people building applications for it. This can't be good for platform development.
I hope Google's Android development team makes its deadline later this year. If not, the rabble will cry for the dissolution of the Open Handset Alliance, or at least argue for it to be merged with the new Symbian Foundation or LiMo.
What will happen to Android then? The work of Google Android lead Andy Rubin and his team may go for naught.
Concerns over Android aside, ABI Research analyst Stuart Carlaw said the mobile Internet device market is a ripe green field "in which all mobile operating systems start on the same equal footing, without the baggage of previous histories such as existed in the smart-phone market."
For that reason, Carlaw said mobile Linux-based systems could notch unit volumes of 50 million units per year in 2013. He added:
Maemo is already in this space thanks to the patronage of Nokia; Moblin will benefit from tight integration with Atom and Intel's drive; and LiMo is actively being positioned for this market. The flexibility, customization and very positive cost comparison to Windows Mobile looks set to ensure that Linux takes the leading role in this market.
Carlaw doesn't mention Android. With no device currently in existence to run the software, which would help Google facilitate its march into mobile Web application, why should he?
In the meantime, consumers looking to play games, set up mobile social network profiles, conduct banking transactions and watch video clips on Web-based phones can turn to LiMo and its phone partners for viable gadgets.