Heavyweights back Mobile Linux

10 Jul 2006

The battle for the handset OS has entered a new phase, with six of the world's biggest vendors and operators jointly throwing their weight behind Mobile Linux.
Motorola, Samsung, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, NEC and Vodafone last month announced plans to establish the world's first global, open Linux-based software platform for mobile devices. They will form an independent body to foster growth of a mobile Linux eco-system, which they said promised lower development costs and increased flexibility for developers and operators. The first handsets with the new Linux specification are targeted for release by the end of 2007.
IDC senior analyst for personal systems Manny Lopez says the group was clearly 'looking for an alternative' to the two major providers of smartphone platforms, Microsoft and Nokia. The prize is leadership of the lucrative top-end smartphone market, which is expected to expand from 100 million units in 2006 to 250 million in 2010.
Tony Cripps, Ovum's analyst for wireless software, said Linux is best placed for the mid-range market as a replacement for the proprietary operating systems used on mass-market devices, instead of competing with Microsoft and Symbian in the high-end segment.
For handset manufacturers the appeal of Linux lies in its perceived ability to combine the scalability of full-feature handset operating systems with low cost. Despite the obvious attraction, few Linux handset models have actually reached the global market to date and few of these have shipped in volume.
Cripps said Linux's previous failure to make a real impression on the mobile phone market was mainly due to the fragmentation at the application layer and the inability of its supporters to offer a consistent, natively-programmable platform for developers and service providers to target.
For Linux to make the breakthrough to the mainstream, he said, these issues need to be resolved. Strong support from tier-one OEMs and developers is also key to the success, he added.
'With heavy hitters such as Vodafone, Motorola, Samsung and DoCoMo in particular backing this initiative, it may begin to test manufacturer loyalty to commercial handsets software platform players like Microsoft and Symbian once the first devices come on stream,' Cripps predicted.
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said although the biggest advantage of Linux was cost, she warned that 'standardizing Linux is not an easy task and even if successful with that, it needs to be seen how they intend to standardize Java' on the layer above.
Other challenges, Cripps said, include legal aspects surrounding the technology licensing, the procedures for certification and application testing. 'These are not trivial matters and as such Microsoft, Symbian, Nokia and others will not be panicking just yet. But they will be looking over their shoulders.'

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