OpenMoko: An iPhone Alternative for Developers?

FIC's open-source mobile communications platform aims to allow greater phone customization.

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.

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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.