Open Source in mobile phones and devices are becoming increasingly popular and hyped. All and everyone but Microsoft seems to go and use open source: Nokia, Motorola, Google, SonyEricsson, Samsung, LGE, HTC, China Mobile, etc. etc.
I attended OSiM in Amsterdam for a day (had to be back to China the next day) and it was quite an interesting and diverse crowd attending and/or speaking - hard core open sourcers along with big fat OEMs trying to leverage open source to make the most of it. In the first Open Source in Mobile blog, I'll make an overview of alternatives for building devices using open source software. Apart from Windows Mobile, all software stacks being used in Smartphones are now open sources.
The absolutely largest and most complete open source software package comes from Symbian. Without seeing the final version of Symbian^2, I am confident in that this will be the most complete open source software package for mobile phones and also the one that will ship the most (thanks to Nokia using it on all their N-series and Symbian-based devices in 2010). After Nokia's acquisition of Symbian, Symbian Foundation was created and Nokia contributed their assets related to Symbian to the Foundation and Lee Williams was recruited from Nokia to head up the Foundation.
Symbian^2 package is a full phone solution based on selected ARM-based chipsets and baseband modems.
Sofar, Nokia, SonyEricsson and Samsung are shipping phones with Symbian and NTT DoCoMo is gearing up for a Japanese package based on Symbian^2 along with the preferred phone suppliers.
Definitely the most talked about open source solution for mobile devices is Android, a result of a few acquisitions from Google where they are using a number of Google software to create a mobile phone platform along with the Open Handset Alliance for a final solution.
It is only HTC that has shipped a Google-certified phone in the market and there a few chinese companies that created devices that ships on the open-source model but there is a lot of momentum around Android. Samsung, LGE and Motorola have all announced that they have phones that will be shipping this year. There were rumors also that HTC had a one year exclusivity deal to be the only one to be Google certified. And a lot of the value associated with Android comes with the right to include Google services with the related Google revenue share.
Google itself focuses solely on creating Android for mobile phones and developed its solution based on Linux and have lateley opened up some of the internal native APIs for developers but the main SDK for developer is based on Dalvik - Java-based virtual machine. The package from Android is not nearly as complete as Symbian but it obviously has a lot of potential.
China Mobile took the Android version and developed OMS - its own OS to be used for edge and TD-SCDMA phones in China. Dell and HTC have been expected to ship for the last couple of months but the first phone has yet to hit the shelfs.
Beyond that, Archos announced an Android tablet; set-top-boxes in Japan and Taiwan being developed and even Car systems being considered.
The appeal for Android is not only the Google backing (that gives credibility) but mainly the stable UI system along with the developer friendly SDK and sandboxing.
Google though confused the market by revealing its plans to launch ChromeOS for netbooks - a browser centric Linux OS delivering Google-cloud services but with an ability to run services/applications off-line via Google Gears.
As much has not been told yet, I just bringing up as this will have some impact next year. First devices expected to ship summer 2010.
Vodafone along with a couple of OEMs created LiMo Foundation in 2007 with the aim to develop an LGPL based mobile phone stack. Contrary to Android, the efforts are committee driven where each member contributes development to the stack.
The first real LiMo phone still awaits to see the day of light but recently the rumors has that Samsung that they will ship a LiMo based phone to Vodafone. See Linuxdevices and GSM Dome.
As they name suggested, the stack is Linux based with a lot of open source software (WebKit, Gstreamer, GTK, etc.). LiPS merged in with LiMO as Orange tended to be left alone in the development efforts on LiPS.
Moblin is being promoted and supported heavily by Intel and is not really a mobile phone platform as it is focused on Netbooks and MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices). Intel has aligned a lot of OSVs and ODMs/OEMs to support the Moblin Ecosystem and develop the solution.
Intel took a step further in Moblin 2 that is now a near-to-complete stack that is ready to ship and Intel actively worked to unify the Linux netbook market. Novell, Ubuntu, Xandros and many other OSVs have ported their solution to Moblin.
Moblin UI is a combination of Clutter and GTK on a Linux OS. Intel also joined forces with Nokia to develop Ofono, an open source phone stack which implies that Moblin later will have phone capabilities beyond Skype and VoIP/WiFi.
Nokia also announced yet another open source based platform for mobiles: Maemo on N900, which is continuous development from N800 and N810. GTK-based but moving to use Qt in the next Maemo SDK release.
Maemo is partly released and so far only one other brand has shipped a product with Maemo. It remains to be seen how Nokia will release Maemo to the open source community but Nokia has actively worked with and engaged the community to use the best-in-breed open source software.
Palm is not releasing their WebOS under any open source license but leveraging Open Source to build their OS. Based on Linux, they have developed their APIs and Toolkit to be integrated with WebKit to deliver a Web-enabled OS.
Tools in Open Source in Mobile
Common to all these Open Source implementations is the use of WebKit, which also Apple is using for iPhone with the exception of Maemo/Moblin (Mozilla).
For UI toolkit, either GTK or Qt have been used in the past. GTK was previously prevailant (LiMo, Moblin, Maemo, etc.) mainly because the use of LGPL where as Qt was only GPL or commercially available. But with Nokia's change in licensing, Qt is also available under LGPL and I have seen a shift towards Qt from GTK lately.
Gstreamer for Linux is extremely popular for delivering multimedia service in Linux. BlueZ for Bluetooth, etc. etc.
Personally, I see a few of these open source solutions diminish overtime. I believe that GTK will be marginalized in favor for Qt. I think that Android, Symbian and Maemo will be three strong open source alternatives for mobile computing (smartphones, smartbooks, MIDs, netbooks) along with Windows Mobile and iPhone.
Next blog, I will share my experience in creating devices with open source software and the benefits of using Open Source and I will do that from a software provider's perspective.
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