A funny thing happened at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona this week.
Google's Android got all the attention after chip makers such as TI and ARM demonstrated the open-source operating system on prototype phones. Meanwhile, seven members of the open-source mobile OS group LiMo Foundation quietly introduced 15 commercial-ready phones.
Backers of Android, which include Google, Samsung and Motorola in the Open Handset Alliance, and LiMo, which also includes Samsung and Motorola, espouse similar philosophies. OHA and LiMo want to provide consumers open-source alternatives to proprietary smart-phone software from Symbian, Microsoft and Apple.
With such similar goals, are these two open-source stacks on a collision course to cancel each other out?
Google didn't respond to comment, but LiMo doesn't seem to think so.
LiMo Foundation Executive Director Morgan Gillis told eWEEK Feb. 14 that LiMo's R1 platform is just the middleware. Handset makers and operators choose the user interface and applications they want to run on it. Google is offering the entire OS stack with Android: middleware, user interface and applications in an "all or nothing" approach, he said.
Android's strength may be its user interface. LiMo's R1 core competency may be its middleware. At the end of it all, the platforms still perform the same function: They're open-source alternatives to Symbian, Windows Mobile and the other leading mobile operating systems, Gillis affirmed.
"We're not really competing," Gillis said, adding that LiMo is open to working with Google. "If Google chose to deploy its user experience on top of LiMo that would work really well, but they haven't explained how they're going to deploy their technology yet."
Ovum Research's Adam Leach took a different view.
"Despite what LiMo members may have said about supporting Android, I think there is a conflict of interest between the two groups, and they do have similar goals but are going about them in slightly different ways," Leach told eWEEK. "They're both gunning for the same space that Windows Mobile and Symbian is."
Enderle Group's Rob Enderle agreed, adding that LiMo is an incomplete kit created by a bunch of companies, where none of them owns the user experience and someone else has to finish it, while Android is supposed to be complete short of only hardware tuning.
He said offering an incomplete kit is tough because handset vendors can't or don't want to complete the user experience, while Android may be better viewed through the successful lenses of the Symbian OS and Windows Mobile.
"Google has figured out how to game open source and knows that someone has to own the user experience or it sucks," Enderle said. "I see [Android and LiMo] as competing, and for me it comes down to execution and money."
Google should be able to out execute and outspend LiMo leveraging open-source technology to protect its competitive advantages, he said.
Still, LiMo has the advantage of coming to market first. LiMo members Motorola, NEC, Samsung and Panasonic all released LiMo R1-based phones Feb. 11. Android was publicly in prototype devices as of Feb. 11.
Commercially, LiMo appears to be ahead, but in the grand scheme of trying to compete with Symbian and Microsoft it may not matter because it could take several years to gain traction versus the incumbents.
For its part, Google has released a new Android SDK, which includes a new user interface, layout animations, geo-coding, which translates an address into a coordinate and vice versa, and business search.
Android-based phones from vendors such as Samsung, HTC and Motorola aren't due until the second half of 2008, making LiMo the OS for users who want to try open-source handsets.