And Now There's Four: Motorola Chooses Linux


It got posted on Slashdot today, and it's buzzing around all the mobile news sites about Motorola's decision to use Linux in their new A760 mobile phone due out at the end of the year. No decent pics yet, but here's a snippet of the news from Fierce Wireless' newsletter:

Motorola launches Linux phone, pledges support for open standard

Motorola today announced its first Linux-based handset, the A760. The phone combines Linux with J2ME and is the handset maker's first handset in an initiative to make Linux the foundation for its future smart phones. The A760 is a GSM/GPRS phone that sports Bluetooth, Web browsing, and also features an MP3 and video player. The A760 is expected to launch first in the Asian market in Q3 2003. No word yet on pricing.

Motorola has made a definite commitment to Linux as the future OS for its smart phones, marking the first formal support for the open-standard OS from a major handset maker. Motorola said it has decided to back Linux due mainly to the rapid pace of application development in the Linux community. Despite Motorola's endorsement, Linux faces a stiff fight in the phone market. According to researcher IDC, Symbian will have about 53 percent of the handset market by 2006, with Microsoft controlling 27 percent and Palm with a 10 percent share.

PLUS: Motorola today also released a new reference design for smart phones, called i.Smart, that can accommodate a number of operating systems, including Linux, Symbian, Microsoft, and Palm. This design, unlike competing reference designs from Nokia and Microsoft, advances the use of the majority of standards on the market. Motorola is bringing the open source fight to the handset market. For more see this press release.

I responded on Slashdot, since I couldn't get to my blog when I saw the post and needed to vent. I still support the Symbian platform and especially Series 60, but I think this is nothing but good news:

I think what Motorola is doing is smart - like the article said, by using Linux/Java they're controlling their own destiny a bit more. The part that I don't understand is that Motorola is part owner of Symbian. It seems to me that they would want to promote that platform instead of going off in a different direction entirely.

But if you just ignore that for a sec, I think choosing Linux is the right thing to do from a power/scalability perspective. Symbian, for example, was designed from the ground up to run on mobile devices. But since these devices are now becoming more and more powerful (like a circa 1995 laptop) you're going to need an OS that can take advantage of that power in an open way and I'll vote Linux any day (like all the rest of you, I'm sure).

Think about this: Motorola (and Nokia) are both going to sell around 400 million mobile phones in 2003. Even if a very small percentage of these phones initially use Linux, it will still mean millions of Linux "installs". Motorola could soon be the #1 Linux computing platform.

If you check out Motorola's home page, you'll also see that they've launched a reference platform for OEMs called i.Smart to base their mobile phones on also. According to the press release, this will allow OEMs to create smart phones in as little as 90 days with support for Symbian, eLinux, Windows CE or PalmOS. This is pretty cool, but what is disappointing is the complete lack of WCDMA/CDMA2000 (i.e. 3G) support in either the A760 or the i.Smart reference design. They need to just pay Qualcomm some ransom money and get on board the CDMA train, IMHO.

I've got lots more thoughts about this. From what I've seen so far, I can't tell if Motorola is going to follow Sharp's example and make the Java Apps peers with the native apps using Personal Java, or whether they'll restrict the functionality and use J2ME, which keeps Java apps in a tightly controlled sandbox. That could really make a difference in the number of apps available and usability also.

Very cool news.


Later... Forbes has their thoughts on the announcement: "So what?" and quotes IDC stats for smartphones:

A recent survey by market research firm IDC found that the Symbian OS constituted about 45% of the global market for smartphones in 2002, followed by the Palm OS, which constituted 28.5%. Microsoft commanded about 7%, while proprietary systems and Java-based smartphones combined accounted for 15%. Linux showed just more than 4%.

The same study forecast that, by 2006, Symbian will account for more than one-half of the worldwide smartphone market, followed by Microsoft with 27%, while Palm will drop to about 10%.

I think he's probably right. Maybe Motorola could hit a sweet spot, but Symbian's got a decent momentum right now to think that's going to disappear just because Motorolas doing Linux and Java as exciting as that sounds to us geeks.

I got this news from MS Mobiles which writes about Microsoft's new phones. It's good to keep up with what the Borg and its minions are doing. ;-) -R

< Previous         Next >