Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Moto + Linux = Real Progress in Phone as Platform

Motorola has followed up its aggressive stance on Java development at JavaOne (and I mean this in a good way, as any vendor's aggressive position is helpful in the wishy-washy world of mobile development platforms). At LinuxWorld today, Motorola exhibited the community and tool projects that go along with its plans to develop all mid-range and higher phones on a Linux OS. Exhibits included work on an Eclipse-based SDK for native app development. They plan to take on Symbian and Windows Mobile head-to-head in this arena of supporting native apps.

Greg Besio's keynote emphasized that Motorola is opening their platform (including publishing code for the core phone apps, in compliance with GPL requirements) and hoping that in return they will benefit from innovation in third-party apps that will flourish on their devices. Sounds like a plan. I asked a number of Moto folks about the balance they will be striking between carrier desires for control, and developer desires to, well, be able to deploy software on the phones. After all, innovative and compelling user experiences only go so far if you need a sync cable and bunch of cracked toolkits to get an app on your phone.

It sounds like a clear position statement has not yet been formulated. One individual said that infrastructure is being prepared in the SDK for various levels of code-signing to control deployment to devices. This could be a "cover all bases" move though, rather than a clear indication that code would need to be signed. Others emphasized that Motorola is committing resources toward helping developers move along the deployment path.

For my part, I emphasized two points to everyone with whom I spoke:
  1. Any unlocked GSM phone that a user owns should be wide open. If a SIM card / network affiliation wants to restrict some net or phone traffic, fine. But the core device and the decision about what runs on it needs to be the owner's.

  2. Even very restrictive carriers (Verizon, Nextel) have historically allowed owners of high-end devices carte blanche with app installation, provided the devices were designated and marketed as smartphones -- e.g. Q on Verizon, Blackberry on Nextel. Plenty of apps generate fatal exceptions on both of these devices, and the earth hasn't stopped rotating, so app robustness isn't the issue. And since smartphone users pay big bucks for their data plans, loss of revenue isn't either. Therefore, it would seem reasonable for Moto to position at least the high-end Linux phones as smartphones, and make clear that they are being promoted as devices which let users move data on and off, install apps, etc.
In any case, this is a great development for too many reasons to blog here. (Ok, so just one: J2SE anyone? ... yeah, it's about time ...)

No comments: