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Summary:

At the Linux World conference in downtown San Francisco this week, the world’s leading cell phone manufacturers, Nokia and Motorola, took a decidedly different approach to embracing the Penguin. Motorola took the stage – Nokia chose a back seat. Motorola played up an aggressive strategy proclaiming […]

At the Linux World conference in downtown San Francisco this week, the world’s leading cell phone manufacturers, Nokia and Motorola, took a decidedly different approach to embracing the Penguin. Motorola took the stage – Nokia chose a back seat.

Motorola played up an aggressive strategy proclaiming it hopes to one day have more than half of its new cell phone models running Linux, and touted at least four Linux-based mobile phone models at its flashy booth on the conference floor. In a keynote Motorola’s VP of Mobile Device Software, Greg Besio, said Motorola plans to target a wealth of mid-tier phones with Linux in both Asia Pacific and beyond.

Though, the company will continue to keep its low-end phones on recently-acquired TTP Communication’s technology, and top of the line high-end phones will use the Microsoft operating systems.
So far Motorola is claiming initial success, with five million Linux devices shipped to the Asia Pacific region, and strong sales of the MING (A1200) model for the last quarter. [See photo, the MING is Motorola’s flagship Linux smart phone for the Chinese market, retailing in the range of $400.]


Nokia, on the other hand is eying Linux for mobile at an arms length. The company only has one mobile Linux device, the decidedly un-phone-like 770 Internet Tablet, and has no plans to implement Linux into its traditional cell phone line up. Nokia’s Director of Open Source Software Operations, Dr. Ari Jaaski puts it as, why fix something that isn’t broken? The company relies on Symbian for many of its models. “We already have the winning system. From a business point of view it doesn’t make sense to change our plans right now,” says Jaaski.

By using Linux, Motorola says it can bring down development costs and time to market, avoid the stranglehold of a single company ruling the OS, and tap the innovation of Linux developers. The Chinese government has also been especially bullish on Linux for mobile for years; a region where the company is looking to gain major points.

If the strategy works, it could help the company steal valuable market share from its chief rival, Nokia. Research firm Canalys attributes part of Motorola’s second quarter growth to Linux devices shipped to China. Not having to rely on the timing and glitches of Microsoft’s mobile OS could be counted as a major blessing, and a strategic advantage.

Then again Nokia has been the dominant cell phone manufacturer for years and somehow continues to keep its vast lead in market share with its more traditional methods. And Moto’s public Linux display could be more marketing than anything else, given its Linux phones are not yet open to the Linux developing public and some developers are worried the ecosystem could remain relatively closed. On the other hand Nokia’s Linux-based tablet has drawn a lot of attention from eager Linux developers that have created applications.

What do you think? Will Moto’s mobile linux plan give it a major boost?

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  1. My perception is that the problem with Moto, is their UI and usability. It’s just plain awkward (or worse!) in spots. Nokia gets this really right.

  2. Totally agree with you!

  3. Jesse Kopelman Friday, August 18, 2006

    Well, perhaps Linux opens the door for some 3rd party developing a good UI, which as we all know is Moto’s big weakspot. A Linux RAZR would certainly create a large enough user base that such development would seem a worthy undertaking. After all, a good phone interface would have far more users than the most sucessful desktop environment.

    Meanwhile, Microsoft better wake up. The mobile device is where the battle for the next 20 years of OS dominance is going to be fought. Windows Mobile is not going to get the job done in its present — hey this is just like good old Windows 95 — state.

  4. Katie,

    It is one thing to put Linux on a phone, but how does this translate to increased sales such as in Asia? Unless you mean that Linux reduces the cost for them. But do consumers (Asia or elsewhere) really care what OS is running on their phone?

    It remains to be seen if Motorola can rally a developer community around their Linux distro running on just some of their lower end phones. If they were truly serious about creating a community then they would becoem brave and install Linux on all of their phones including Razrs. But this is doubtful because most big companies (just like Nokia with Symbian) can’t let go of their legacy and have the courage to canniblize it.

    GigaOM totally missed covering Greenphone. This is a GigOM disappointment.

  5. Katie Fehrenbacher Friday, August 18, 2006

    Edv,
    Agreed. I checked out Greenphone on the LinuxWorld floor, and it is indeed cool. Alas, sometimes time just escapes us.
    KF

  6. I commented on the state of mobile operating systems a few days ago (Windows Hegemony). Linux is the alternative and I think, long term, it will be the alternative to Microsoft.
    Symbian is going down a dead-end street unless it opens up a lot more.
    One comment that I would make concerning the friendliness of the UI. Nokia makes 1 Linux device, but (after the 2006 upgrade) it is already one of the most user-friendly Linux interfaces. It’s not the operating system, it’s the company!
    The main issue in the Linux world is fragmentation, and unfortunately I see that happening for Linux Mobile as well.
    As the facilities on mobile phones resemble PCs more and more, so the temptation will be to put MS software (and applications) on the hardware.

    People who say Windows won’t cut it in the mobile world are probably the same people who said that WAP and iMode were the future of browsing on mobile devices!

  7. I have heard that the Symbian OS
    is relly problematic. A lot of bugs,
    outdated design. Maybe Nokia
    needs it when awareness starts to rise…

  8. After owning several Nokia Smartphones I have to say that the O.S. reliability leaves something to be desired. I decided to switch to a Cingular 8125 (HTC Wizard) running WM5. After 6 months of use and one ROM update to version 2.25.11.1 WWE I have to say that this is the most reliable, feature rich smartphone O.S. that I have ever used. It will continue to get better and more stable over time. The only reason that Motorola and Nokia want to utilize alternative operating systems on their phones is too save money. They should be more concerned with providing the consumer with a device that is going to meet their needs. You can read a review of the Cingular 8125 here: http://www.electrogeek.com/blog/2006/03/12/cingular-8125-smartphone-reviewed/

  9. I can hardly see how Motorola’s plans to offer three different operating systems will save them money. They plan on licensing Microsoft’s OS for the high-end models, but they’ll still end up developing and having to support Linux and “the recently acquired TTP Communication’s technology” for their mid- and low-end lines.

    While Nokia’s Symbian may have problems (I’m not a Symbian/C++ developer), singing praise to Linux sounds more like marketing than a realistic method to cut costs.

    Of course, it’s really all about the “developers, developers, developers, developers…”

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