OpenMoko / iPhone

July 9, 2007

I’ve been in a bit of an argument over the iPhone and Apple and what that means for Freedom. Nonetheless, I was given the argument that Apple is helping rid the world of DRM and succeeding…which I found amusing. This post isn’t to bash Apple, but rather to point out that many people fail to see there is a free alternative to post of the pieces of technology they use. So when I see something like the OpenMoko phone, it makes me hopeful for the future of technology. I’d like to see a few more videos of it running before I go out and buy it. It should work on my network according to this page but we will have to see. It seems like this is part of the responsibility of asking for free software, it should extend from our desktop to our phone to our electronic voting machine. Either way, I think I’ll be picking one up at some point (Phase 2 however). I wish it had been more visible in the community like the OLPC project was.

On the Xubuntu side, I’ve been swamped so I haven’t been able to get much documentation done. I have a few projects to complete and some travel to do but I should be back to hacking on docs real soon.


  1. It’s actually a very visible project 🙂 I guess you just don’t follow much on embedded Linux initiatives. A lot of inspiration from OpenMoko originated from the OZ project as well as GPE, but most of those projects resulted on existing hardware that they are not designed to in the first place.

    I guess more people were excited at Maemo and OLPC they thought that the mobile phone industry is the last place such a project would take place. In a way that’s quite correct. The mobile industry is a different beast. Carrier-grade Linux is still very much a work in progress but showing good potential.

  2. thanks for your comment Jerome. When I said visible project, I mean visible at technology events. I knew about the OpenMoko project but have yet to see it. I’ve seen the OLPC at Flourish as well as BarCamp (both tech events in Chicago). The visibility also extends to places like YouTube, I haven’t seen too many videos of it running, but plenty of release videos. I’m still a major fan of the OpenMoko phone, I dislike that companies will build something like a smart phone on a Linux kernel but won’t have it completely open in the way the OpenMoko project does. You are correct that embedded Linux is just beginning for smartphones, but I’m looking forward to projects like UMEE.

  3. Ah right, its probably because the most of the core team members are located at FIC in Taiwan. I’ve already tried a prototype during a local trade show. As much as I like the concept, the design of the phone itself is not so great IMHO. This region is still pretty much Nokia country for a good reason – it just works. There are certain Motorola phones that do run on Linux (the Rokr E2 for instance), but for most consumers of mobile phones, they do not really care what firmware or OS is running, as long as it doesn’t crash and wipe out their address book. I used to have a Rokr E2 only because it had Linux running as well as Opera bundled but I eventually sold it because I have found a better device that suits how my mobile “lifestyle” works (it’s the E61i).

    Over here, the FIC Neo1973 has a very little chance of even penetrating the market, only because it is not enabled in say, UMTS. Even if it gets sold in retail, I doubt it will do any good. The other phone makers are already having a hard time getting good market share away from big N. But if it does get released locally, I expect it to be quite affordable just to get more market share.

    The UMEE project goes in a different way as it is geared towards LPIA, but a future roadmap of that architecture is that of probably convergent devices.

  4. Part of the reason I am still hesitant about getting an OpenMoko phone is performance. I think I would need to try it out first, something like Apple does in there Apple store for the iPhone. At the very least, navigate the menus, check out some of the customization and see how it syncs with my computer. How long ago did you see it? Its possible that it has grown in leaps and bounds since you last saw it, a trend I notice in something like Ubuntu.

    Over here in Chicago its possible to get good support for just about any phone, one of the few times people loss reception is because they are underground on the trains (and some wireless companies now have receivers down there). I think the point of the OpenMoko phone for me is the philosophical aspect of the phone and I’m confident that it won’t be buggy. E61i).

    I think the point is the backward compatibility of GSM. The OpenMoko phone is built for everybody, not just people on an EDGE connection. Hopefully the physical devices will be put in though. I think the phone is mostly affordable but I wouldn’t mind it going down in price. Still, I’d rather pay a higher cost for freedom, but thats just me.

    Even though it may be looking at LPIA initially, this will inevitably benefit Linux (kernel) in general. Powertop is one such example. By growing the kernlel’s flexibility and making it better, groups like UMEE can help benefit the adoption of free software. Linux is used on all kinds of embedded devices like DVD players and getting it into the market is critical.

  5. Well I’ve seen it just early this year in a Taiwan trade show so its pretty much on beta hardware. If you’d like to try the actual system, you can it on qemu.

    However, I disagree with the compatibility argument to GSM. Current W-CDMA / UMTS handsets are common now for almost every brand manufacturer except probably those focused on the NA market, but that has been changing recently, which may mean that the license spectrum is now mainstream while still retaining a relatively high cost of penetration probably because it is still considered as current technology and growing (HSDPA, HSUPA, etc.), while GSM going towards EDGE requires only a software upgrade for the carrier to provide. So to be able to penetrate a wide market with a low cost handset, you provide the common denominator.

    Mobile phone consumers are a discriminate lot, that’s why certain brands have staying power because of the design of the phones, from the aesthetics to the navigation of the system. For a data hungry consumer, EDGE won’t cut it. And the Neo1973 is very much a device that will access data, be it via SMS or IP packets. If you give a choice for a regular consumer a $150 3G phone that can do video calls, 1.3MP camera, and surf high speed against a $200 phone that can only do edge and has no camera, what would he choose? I’m sure Linux wasn’t one of the categories he had for choosing.

    So I guess my point is that its alright to be geeky into details like this in mobile and embedded, but its an entirely different animal to tame. It’s quite hard to compare it apples to apples with say a desktop development centric project and time to market is very very important not to mention you only got one chance to succeed or bomb into obscurity (unless you are apple with job’s RDF).

    If there is a good thing to this exercise though, is that FIC is making sure the hardware components are compatible with free drivers, one of which is wifi, which i think they will be using an Atheros one for the next version of the hardware. There seems to be a trend to open hardware too, but the question is, will people bite?

  6. Performance seems to be not-so-good yet, but it’s also not really usable for non-developers at the moment. I’m not even sure if you can make a phone call (though if not, it should come soon now that it has been released). But, anyway, shipping costs seem to be extraordinary high…

    I’ve been hanging around on some of the mailinglists for a while, and I’m amazed at the talent of the community that has gathered around Openmoko, and the equipment that they have. They were talking about making custom case designs using a 3D printer! That would solve your design problem Jerome 😉

  7. It’s not good to compare iPhone and OpenMoko phone. iPhone is selling because of user experience they are offering. The product development was focused like that. What OpenMoko does is technical tinkering. It will never get popular, as that project is not focusing on the important things at all.

    And, before they actually start generating some information to be seen (videos and pictures of it actually working) it is not a visible project.

  8. erik, what do you consider important things?

    OpenMoko, regarding its current state, is extremely visible, especially when compared to the iPhone. Remember? It just to be just rumours and speculating, and when it was announced, it was already in a farther state than the OpenMoko is currently in and you still couldn’t lay your hands on one.

  9. Show me the screenshots and videos of it running?

  10. erik, you can bet that they will start popping up around the web (if I think of it I’ll link to some here if I come across them) now that they are shipping the phase1 deviced (I believe the first were set to arrive tomorrow).

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