OpenMoko: An iPhone Alternative for Developers?

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2007-06-29

OpenMoko: An iPhone Alternative for Developers?

Apples iPhone may come with numerous features for consumers, but for developers, it offers limited customization options.

The movers behind the OpenMoko open-source project, announced in November 2006, want to offer those developers an alternative with unlimited customization.

Sean Moss-Pultz, architect of OpenMoko and product manager of the Mobile Communication Business Unit at FIC (First International Computer), in Taipei, Taiwan, said developers will want to take a look at OpenMoko. "If you want to develop your own applications [with the iPhone], to the best of my knowledge, you cant," he said.

Moss-Pultz acknowledged that mobile platforms have long been proprietary and scattered. However, he said, with the release of OpenMoko, which is based on the latest Linux open-source efforts, developers have an easy way to create applications and deliver services that span all users and provide a common look and feel.

Click here to read why the Free Software Foundation says the iPhone will betray consumers.

The OpenMoko platform will empower FICs Neo1973 smart phone, which has been delayed but is expected to be released in October. The Neo1973 is a touch-screen phone similar to the iPhone.

Meanwhile, although the concepts behind both the iPhone and an OpenMoko-based phone are similar, "fundamentally, were totally different," Moss-Pultz said in an interview with eWEEK. "End user freedom is our passion. Apple is about giving you an incredibly polished experience—exactly how they want you to have it. The end user really has no freedom. They cannot change the device if they dont like the way Apple choose to make things. OpenMoko is the anti-iPhone."

He said he likes to describe OpenMoko as a movement to create an open platform that empowers customers to personalize their phone—much like a computer—in any way they see fit.

"Apple makes sure their entire software stack stays closed," Moss-Pultz said. "We chose to make the entire software stack open. From a control standpoint—the things corporations love—this borders on insanity. But, I think, by pushing these borders, we will let loose the possibility for immense innovation."

He said innovation is "seldom found within the endless cubicles of a large corporation. Most commonly it manifests itself within the intense focus and concentration that all individuals seem to have access to when they stare at a single problem long enough."

Staying with a problem long after most would quit is a luxury few companies can afford, he said. So Moss-Pultz has been focusing on the OpenMoko framework, including the user interface for a common look and feel for users, a data component for a common storage model for applications, and libraries or common platforms for developers.

Next Page: The Neo1973 offers customization for free.


: An iPhone Alternative for Developers?">

"We give you everything for free—exactly the same tools that we use internally," he said. "We want you to change this device. Personalize away, to your hearts content."

Moss-Pultz said the entire OpenMoko system and application software are built using FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). On the system side, OpenMoko uses software "such as the Linux kernel, the GNU C library, the X Window System, and the GTK+ tool kit, to name only a few. OpenMoko is Mobile FOSS," he said.

Moreover, new technology requires new code, Moss-Pultz said.

"As we implement extensions, such as device drivers, or create something entirely new, such as the OpenMoko GUI framework and our collection of smart-phone applications, the code is available though SVN (Subversion version control system), or, even better, has already been merged into the upstream sources," he said.

All the software is bundled into the OpenMoko distribution, which is based on OpenEmbedded, a meta-distribution containing more than 1,500 packages, Moss-Pultz said. The well-known FOSS-based infrastructure and standards-based development tools enable developers to quickly make the Neo do exactly what they want, he said. Whether this means making a small personalization, porting an existing application, or even writing a new application from scratch, users are in total control, he said.

"This is the way things should be," Moss-Pultz said. "And since OpenMoko is Mobile FOSS, developers can share the fruits of their work with the rest of the community. For the mobile world, this is an entirely new concept."

He said the core OpenMoko team is a small one in a very big company.

"But OpenMoko has become far bigger than just a small group of people trying to build an open platform for the phone," Moss-Pultz said. "Those of us who believe so deeply in the freedoms of open technologies have built a bridge. And this bridge can seriously change the way companies view product development and how people view their phones."

In a June 27 letter to the community, Moss-Pultz said that OpenMoko is now a company inside the FIC Group. And starting July 9, the companys Web site will begin taking orders for the Neo phones.

Meanwhile, OpenMoko has spawned a host of subprojects, including one named "Coach," which Moss-Pultz said he likes. According to the OpenMoko projects site, Coach "is a running/biking training program. It can tell you how far you go, how many calories you burn, how fast you go, and even inform you if you are at your goal pace."

There is even a "wish list" entry for a project to create an alcohol analyzer, like a Breathalyzer for the OpenMoko phone.

"At this point, there are far more ideas going around than code," Moss-Pultz said. "But this is really to be expected at the stage were at now. If you look at our projects site,, youll see that a lot of people have started working on their ideas. This is even more amazing if you consider that we havent even sold a single phone yet."

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