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.,
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.
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