Despite tame comments and a willingness to consider supporting Google’s Android platform, Verizon’s strong support of the LiMo Foundation could color in the battle lines between not only Google and Verizon, but also the Google-backed Open Handset Alliance and LiMo.
LiMo, a global consortium comprising 40 companies dedicated to creating Linux-based handsets as alternatives to smart phones running the Symbian, Windows Mobile and Palm operating systems, on May 14 announced Verizon Wireless, the Mozilla Foundation, Infineon Technologies, Kvaleberg, Red Bend Software, Sagem Mobiles, SFR and SK Telecom as new members.
LiMo is seen by many as an alternative to Android, the Google-backed mobile operating platform based on Linux. However, LiMo Executive Director Morgan Gillis has told eWEEK and reaffirmed on a conference call May 14 that the LiMo 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 operating system stack with Android: middleware, user interface and applications in an “all or nothing” approach, he said.
During the call, Kyle Malady, vice president of network for Verizon, responded to every question about Android with diplomacy and proclaimed Linux as the phone carrier’s preferred operating system.
“Let me underscore, we are wholeheartedly endorsing the LiMo Foundation’s approach and have decided to dedicate company resources-financial, intellectual and personnel-to fulfill their mission of a highly flexible, evolving and truly opening operating system,” Malady said.
He added that Verizon, to ensure fair competition, will not exclude supporting other mobile operating systems, including RIM’s OS, Windows Mobile, Palm’s OS and BREW. Malady said Verizon Wireless won’t offer Linux mobile devices until 2009.
He also said that the carrier is weighing whether or not to support Android, though his comments were hardly encouraging in that regard compared with the strong embrace of LiMo.
“I expect to see you will find OHA devices in the marketplace… Certainly, there might be a segment for them and we will continue to watch that. If there comes to be a point where we see this benefit for our customers, we could use that… As long as it can meet our minimum requirements, we’ll see that proliferating throughout,” Malady said, without saying the name Android.
Verizon: Eh for OHA
Malady’s use of the future tense is salient; device manufacturers and operators have already created 18 LiMo devices, while Android has just a few prototypes floating around from chip makers such as Texas Instruments and ARM.
“The continued momentum being demonstrated by LiMo is in sharp contrast to the progress being made by Google’s Open Handset Alliance that, other than a couple of early prototype demos at this year’s Mobile World Congress, has yet to show further convincing progress,” wrote Ovum Research analyst Adam Leach in a research note May 14.
If Android gets too powerful, Verizon may see it as a threat to LiMo and choose not to offer it. Offering LiMo and Android handsets together could cancel them out, defeating the purpose of Verizon’s vigorous LiMo support.
Indeed, by getting fully behind and invested in LiMo, it is clear that if push comes to shove, Verizon is going to choose LiMo over Android in a heartbeat.
Moreover, against the backdrop of the war of accusations the companies are waging against each other through the Federal Communications Commission, Malady’s comments about considering Android support rang hollow.
Google May 2 filed a petition to the FCC asking the agency to clarify open access rules for wireless communications, citing what it claimed was Verizon’s loose interpretation of the rules. Verizon said Google’s claims have no merit and pledged to file a counter position.
With that cross stream of fear, uncertainty and doubt, it was clear that the dinged feelings in the wake of Google’s admitted manipulation of the 700MHz wireless auction in January were not resolved.
Moreover, despite Gillis’ diplomatic position, Verizon’s wholehearted endorsement of LiMo could ratchet up the tension between the Google-forged OHA, which is similarly pushing the creation of Linux-based handsets, albeit running Google’s Android brand of mobile OS.
Malady said LiMo and OHA could both succeed in the market, competing with each other. He also said he thought the two could work together. However, historically such factions tend to fragment the industry, not come together.