OpenMoko stands for Open Mobile Kommunikation. “Kommunikation” is German and means “communication”. Open Mobile Communication is at the centre of the Open Mobile Economy. So I should be really interested in OpenMoko.
In fact I am. Even more so because I am actually “Looking for Open Dream Device Makers” for quite some time now. In my mobiliser blog post on April 9, 2006, I pointed out a number of ideas for building an open dream device. It looks like the team behind OpenMoko shares the same philosophy.
The key question is this: Can you build a commercially successful mobile device that only uses Free Open Source Software (FOSS)? I am sure it is possible but you need a good team, an active developer community and decent funding.
Back in December 2005, I met Harald Welte after his 22c3 presentation about his reverse engineering activities “Towards the first Free Software GSM Phone”. At the time Harald’s idea was to replace all proprietary applications on a Linux-based Motorola phone with 100% FOSS. Now Harald is a core developer of OpenMoko and I am sure it is a lot more fun thanks to full access to all hardware specs and APIs.
OpenMoko is actually supposed to be the world’s first integrated Open Source Mobile Communications Platform and it was announced by OpenMoko’s Product Manager Sean Moss-Pultz at Informa’s “Open Source in Mobile” conference in Amsterdam on 7 November, 2006. I would have loved to join this event but I was sitting in the plane to Tokyo for my Mobile Executive Tour.
Harald explains OpenMoko’s software architecture in a recent email:
OpenMoko really is about Free Software from the bottom to the top of the software stack (no binary-only kernel modules, no binary-only GSM communication libraries, no proprietary libraries, no pre-installed proprietary userspace applications). So this aspect of freedom is the main product design principle.
Thus the OpenMoko platform differs quite a bit from Trolltech’s Greenphone which uses Trolltech’s proprietary userspace application stack.
Sean’s “Mystery Speaker Presentation” at Open Source in Mobile gives a good idea about the motivation and potential commercial benefits of open devices based on the OpenMoko platform. The first device based on OpenMoko will be the “Neo1973″ to be manufactured by Taiwanese computer and device maker First International Computer (FIC). FIC was founded in 1980 by chairman Ming Chien, is headquartered in Taipei, publicly listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange (TSE 3701) and enjoys yearly revenues of roughly 3 billion dollars. The product name Neo1973 sounds like being inspired by the Matrix hero Neo and somebody’s birthday over there at FIC.
As Linuxdevices nicely summarises the Neo1973 will be based on Linux, support GSM, GPRS and GPS. It will cost $350 and will be sold directly over the Internet starting in Q1/07. The direct online distribution approach is the same as Nokia’s 770 Internet Tablet based on the Maemo application development platform. To learn more about Nokia’s open device approach I recommend Ari Jaaksi’ LinuxWorld presentation.
The big challenge for OpenMoko will be to attract the global Linux developer community to create the apps that consumers really need. Mobile push email is one of them and, consequentely, OpenMoko just announced a cooperation with mobile open source software maker Funambol. Funambol’s open source mobile application server is based on SyncML and the OMA standards for data sychronization (SyncML DS) and device management (SyncML DM). Basically, Funambol’s software enables mobile push email and PIM sychronization in a 100% transparent way for developers and consumers. I have written about mobile data sync and device management back in 2004 when I interviewed Synchronica’s CEO Carsten Brinkschulte.
Now the only thing missing to have fun with open devices and open applications are inexpensive data flat rates. Enter the would-be Data MVNO Open or other progressive MNOs or MVNOs.
Note: This article is available with pictures and links on the mobiliser blog.
Jan Michael Hess is Founder and CEO of Ecosummit and Mobile Economy GmbH. Berlin-based Mobile Economy provides management consulting focused on smart green business innovation. Ecosummit is the Smart Green Economy Network for startups, investors and corporates. Mobile Economy produced the international conferences Green Venture Summit 2010 (250 participants) and Ecosummit 2011 (300 participants) in Berlin. Jan acts as Chief Editor for Ecosummit.net and the Youtube channel Ecosummit TV. Prior to founding Mobile Ecomomy in 2000, Jan worked for Pixelpark, Icon Medialab and Ciao. Jan holds a business degree from the University of Mannheim in Germany.
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