Motorola, Nokia take different routes to Linux

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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