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Linux’s New Mobile Fan Club

המאמר מציג את התפתחותה של פלטפורמה למחשוב נייד מבוססת LINUX. (המאמר בשפה האנגלית).

Recently a new group, encouraged by NTT DoCoMo, formed to establish a new platform for mobile devices based on Linux. Heavyweight supporters of this coalition include NEC, Motorola, Panasonic, Samsung and Vodafone. The stated goal of this group is to provide an open source Linux-based platform that will lower development costs and provide an ecosystem that current Linux based phones don’t have, since each current Linux powered device is essentially a unique product with its own deployment strategy.

This is another attempt by a group of major industry players to define a platform open to all users. But what is the real intent of this group? We believe this is a reaction to the increasingly closed phone ecosystem which these players see as threatening. The Symbian OS, once created for the exact same reasons of openness and cross platform support, has become essentially controlled by Nokia. Microsoft, with its tight control of Windows Mobile, does not provide the needed “openness” to allow individual device customization and therefore requires phone vendors to essentially provide a standardized device (a plus for consumers and enterprises, but not necessarily so for individual vendors who want/need to differentiate). That leaves choices like the Palm OS, with its kernel already being ported to Linux after its acquisition by Access, RIM with its proprietary BlackBerry OS, and an assortment of Linux based (e.g., MontaVista, TrollTech) and other (e.g. Intrinsyc based on WinCE) OSes to choose from.

What this new group has undertaken to create is a daunting task, requiring mobile Linux extensions, new and uniform drivers, a standard UI, etc. Such an undertaking, with all things going well, could take 2+ years and many hours of effort. However, we do not believe this new coalition will be terribly successful. Linux as a mobile platform will primarily be relegated to lower end devices (see our mobile OS share estimates in our 16 January 2006 Technology Brief). The biggest growth potential for such devices is  the emerging markets (e.g., India, China,) where new entries into the marketplace (e.g. Huawei) will have a major influence, or where existing players with brand recognition, (especially Nokia) will be able to capture market share. Linux’s advantage, zero or near zero licensing fees, will not be a great advantage for anything other than low end devices (and in fact, it is not clear that this group will be able to ultimately maintain no cost, non-licensed IP). Higher end smart phone devices, where an ecosystem is already forming, will not be attractive to app developers who would have to recreate products and services they have already deployed/adapted for existing platforms. Further, by the time these new devices emerge, the other platforms will have concentrated their market shares leaving little room for newcomers. Finally, it is not clear that major phone vendors (e.g., Motorola, Samsung) will ultimately gain by producing “one phone of every flavor”, and will eventual have to limit their choices (each already produces a variety of phones based on different OSes).

Bottom Line: Even though there appear to be some heavy weight names behind this effort, be do not believe it will be terribly successful. It is late to market, and will require a significant amount of time to emerge. Its best chance appears to be at the low end of the market, where emerging markets will be hungry for low cost alternatives to licensed OSes and their subsequent fees. However, time to market and cost of third party IP may cause this effort to fail.

:כותב המאמר הנו

Jack Gold

jack.gold@jgoldassociates.com

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