OpenMoko offers open-source smart phone

We don’t normally cover smart phones here at TR, but OpenMoko is showing an interesting device at CES that could really open up the platform. OpenMoko was started as a mobile communications group within FIC, and it has developed an open, Linux-based software stack for mobile phones. The stack was developed in part to give smart phones a non-threatening alternative to operating systems from Microsoft and Symbian, which pack steep hardware requirements and expensive licensing fees. OpenMoko also hopes its approach will resonate with open-source developers eager to take on a new platform and those who have been unimpressed with the inflexibility of current smart phones.

With the exception of a user space library associated with the device’s GPS chip, the entire OpenMoko software stack will be released under the GPL. In fact, most of the stack has been culled from existing open-source software, with OpenMoko filling in the holes where needed to complete the package. OpenMoko has also written a set of core applications, including a calendar and contact list, and an app manager designed to make downloading and installing new applications easy.

A couple of OpenMoko interface shots. Source: OpenMoko

Since supporting software development is a basic tenet of OpenMoko’s approach, they’ll be hosting community-developed applications for users to download. The apps will be unsupported, of course, but OpenMoko is planning to offer a paid service that will offer support for a smaller subset of applications that have been thoroughly tested and validated.

On the hardware front, OpenMoko’s first Neo1973 smart phone measures 120.7mm x 62mm x 18.5mm and features a 2.8″ VGA touch screen. A Samsung S3C2410 at 266MHz runs the show under the hood, accompanied by 128MB of SDRAM, 64MB of flash memory, a Texas Instruments GPRS chip, and a GPS module from Global Locate. The Neo also supports Bluetooth and USB 1.1, and features a 2.5mm audio jack and Micro SD slot. Everything is powered by a 1200 mAh battery that can be charged over USB.

The Neo1973 will start shipping in February, and it’s expected to sell for $350 without carrier subsidies. Additional features, such as 3G support and a sliding keyboard, are also in the works. However, OpenMoko is looking to get its open platform into the market at a relatively affordable price tag as soon as possible.

Comments closed
    • Inkling
    • 13 years ago
    • ripfire
    • 13 years ago

    Hehe. OpenMoko… That’s funny.

    • UberGerbil
    • 13 years ago

    The real problem with this — and the reason we haven’t seen this before — is that the open phone maker has to get the carriers on board. And they don’t like the idea of uncontrolled handsets on their system. Letting you run arbitrary Java apps is one thing; letting you mess with the underlying OS (and therefore potentially mess with their larger network) is something else entirely. I don’t see any mention of a participating carrier, and without that you just have a pocket PC.

      • BigMadDrongo
      • 13 years ago

      Actually, (in the UK at least) all you need is a SIM card slot and a standard GSM radio, then the phone will work with any network, participating or not.

      Admittedly, I don’t know what kind of licensing / compliance / certification issues are involved in legally building and integrating a SIM slot and GSM radio into a device, so maybe that helps the networks maintain their lockdown. Even if that’s the case, no reason they couldn’t keep those bits (like the GPS stuff) binary-only (e.g. in the ROM) and leave the rest of the phone open to modification.

      Of course this is only relevant if the phone does actually let developers build their own ROM images from the GPL source and flash it onto the device. Otherwise this is no more “open” in practice than any of the existing phone platforms.

      I’m interested to see where this goes. Doubt the platform will ever be popular with consumers, but if they can get a real open source movement going behind a phone platform comparable in size with, say, Mozilla in the pre-1.0 days, there could be some real innovation and competitive pressure in the phone space.

      • Flying Fox
      • 13 years ago

      Only US, Canada and a few other countries seem to have this problem. The majority rest of the world doesn’t seem to have a heavier provider-controlled phone market like us. ๐Ÿ™

      Even if it doesn’t sell well, I certainly hope this serves as a price checks and balance mechanism to prevent excessive prive gouging. And we all want lower priced phones, right?

    • bdwilcox
    • 13 years ago

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha! The Apple iPhone! Nothing like staking your basic communication medium on something as dependable as an iPod. With a platform as robust as the iPod, next thing you’ll see is the iDefibrilator and iRespirator. Oh no, not a frowny face! Sorry miss, your husband is now an iCorpse.

      • d2brothe
      • 13 years ago

      He’s gone to live with iGod

    • LoneWolf15
    • 13 years ago

    I like the look of the interface. And I’d love to see a phone that could use this and compete with the likes of Treo(Palm) and Windows Mobile devices, both of which fall short of greatness.

    I’ll agree to disagree with you, Thresher. The iPhone may be a neat product, and it may even sell well. However, there’s still tons of room in the market for a good smartphone, especially in business. Nobody has made the perfect one yet (having had three smartphones, and tested two others, I’ve not found one that works as well as advertised). I think the iPhone is more a consumer product than a business one, and so I think OpenMoko may really have potential, if it is stable, full featured, and application development isn’t overly complicated compared to simlar platforms (Palm Garnet, WinMobile, or Symbian).

    • Thresher
    • 13 years ago

    At the risk of being presumptious, I am inclined to think that this has become largely irrelevant.

    The Apple iPhone is going to change a lot of ideas about phones.

      • BotNot
      • 13 years ago

      I would agree. Nice idea, until about 9:15 Pacific time. It may still find a place as the Apple phone will take a fair amount of time to rip off.

    • maxxcool
    • 13 years ago

    Finally i can fold on my phone ๐Ÿ˜‰

    But seriously, i like the idea of being able to load my phone with crap i will use… not whats bundled from the carrier.

    my own im client, weather it be aim, yahoo, jabberish…

    on the other hand now phones will make great hacking tools! but i guess that could be fun too!

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