LiMo Says Vodafone's Android Support Shouldn't Fragment the Mobile Linux Space

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-12-11

LiMo Says Vodafone's Android Support Shouldn't Fragment the Mobile Linux Space

When the Open Handset Alliance said it gained 14 new members Dec. 9, some industry watchers cocked an eyebrow at the participation of Vodafone.

Google created OHA (Open Handset Alliance) in November 2007 to encourage the proliferation of smartphones based on the Google's open-source Android mobile operating system as alternatives to the Apple iPhone and Microsoft Windows Mobile and Research In Motion handsets.

Vodafone is a founding member of the LiMo Foundation, which is also working hard to get its own open-source mobile operating system onto smartphones.

OHA has 47 members and only one official phone, but Sprint, Motorola and others are working hard to expand the Android selection for 2009. LiMo has 48 members and its Linux OS appears on 24 handsets to date, with more coming in early 2009.

In accordance with open-source etiquette, neither the Android nor the LiMo camp can cop to the simmering competition, even as mobile and wireless industry pundits see a race to fill the market with Linux-based alternatives to the proprietary incumbents.

Ovum's Adam Leach suggested in a research note Dec. 10 that Vodafone's membership with OHA casts some doubts over Vodafone's future involvement with LiMo, where Vodafone originally vowed to pursue its own open-source mobile phone strategy.

Leach suggested that one of the reasons Vodafone got in bed with OHA was because Android has an SDK (software development kit) with an Android Market Web site to sell applications, as well as the T-Mobile G1 smartphone, which is expected to sell 1 million units through 2008. LiMo, Leach noted, has yet to produce an SDK and thus lacks a "convincing developer story."

Despite this hole, is Vodafone still backing LiMo? Absolutely, a Vodafone spokesperson told eWEEK, noting that joining the OHA means Vodafone will be able to work with the Android platform alongside other operating platforms such as LiMo, Symbian, Microsoft and RIM, improving customer choice.

Is LiMo Headed for Trouble?

Leach said Vodafone sees it as strategically important to have a platform for its own applications and services that is not owned by a potential competitor, but it does not believe that LiMo will affect business during 2009. However, Android is in a better position to have an impact on sales next year.

Leach nails the key point: Android, by virtue of its strong developer lineup and growing application arsenal, seems to have the pole position among Linux phone providers. Vodafone will be able to ape T-Mobile's G1 and launch an exclusive device for its network.

It's the kind of rap that can spread like wildfire in a mobile market where applications are perhaps second in importance only to handsets with impeccable navigational user experiences.

Does this spell trouble for LiMo? LiMo Executive Director Morgan Gillis told eWEEK:

It's natural that significant overlap in membership is now developing among the three major operating system initiatives, Android, LiMo and the Symbian Foundation. It will not be the case that the OS landscape is divided between Google and Nokia. The natural fit that LiMo has with major operators' strategies will ensure that LiMo has a significant position.

The LiMo operating system is being produced collaboratively by a group of companies, including Vodafone Motorola and NTT Docomo. Android is produced largely by Google and Symbian is promoted by Nokia.

Gillis said LiMo, Android and Symbian intend to boost mobile Web services for consumers. This common goal will enable the three to dominate the mobile market over Microsoft, which is losing ground in the mobile sector, RIM and Apple.

Ultimately, Leach acknowledged that collaboration between Vodafone and OHA could lead to Android's run-time running on LiMo-compliant handsets. After all, they are both built on Linux and share other common components. Gillis allowed that this was possible, but said there were no current plans to make that happen.

"Such a move would reduce fragmentation within the mobile Linux community and help stimulate the developer community," Leach said.

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