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openmoko phone

If, in a few weeks, it turns out that Apple’s iPhone is going to become another delicate rosebud in the AT&T Wireless walled garden, there are a number of candidates waiting in the wings for those of us who’ve seen this as the bazaar‘s big chance to topple the cathedral. One of the more interesting ideas is the OpenMoko phone.

Yes, it’s a linux device, and no, there is no way to lock it. Furthermore, you will likely never be able to purchase it from your local wireless carrier for pennies, along with a two-year commitment. When people are looking for carriers and handset makers to break open that walled garden, what they’re really looking for is for mobile devices to be more like PCs (install whatever you want on it, use it the way you’d like to, support it yourself), and for the wireless data connection to be more like the internet (flat-rate, all-you-can-eat, don’t mess with my packets). These are market concepts which are rather foreign to the carriers whose networks we depend on.

OpenMoko, as this presentation attests, is pursuing just that model. Phone-as-PC, with linux and a solid widget/application framework under the hood. Under, developers are exchanging ideas and sharing code in a kind of SourceForge for the OpenMoko platform. Backed by Taiwan-based FIC, one of the world’s largest contract technology manufacturers, this platform looks as though it may have some legs, but it will likely hit the market in some other form and via a short list of different name brands. At the moment it’s just a reference design.

The hardware supplied to developers (and only developers at this stage) by FIC is named the Neo1973. It’s powered by a Samsung SoC S3C2410AL 266MHz ARM9. Standard memory includes 128MB SDRAM and an internal NAND flash, with apparent room for more (including via the MicroSD socket). The Quad-band GSM radio unit by Texas Instruments connected by an internal serial bus to the SoC is also pretty spiffy. But wait, there’s more:

  • 480×640 Active-Matrix Touchscreen
  • a WiFi chip is on the horizon, Bluetooth 2.0 built-in
  • GPS receiver

Will this really shake up the market? FIC really seems to hope so, and is investing to make sure it goes somewhere. What’s clear is that with devices like this one, the Trolltech phone, Nokia’s first tentative step with the 770 Internet Tablet, Linux is going to have a startling disruptive effect on existing mobile platforms like Symbian and Windows Mobile. And very likely it’ll have the greatest likelihood of putting the wireless companies, especially 3G GSM carriers, in their place.

Time will tell.