Monday, July 07, 2008

Open source Openmoko phone

July 4th, 2008 came a phone so unique it may revolutionize the mobile phone industry. Openmoko Neo FreeRunner is a completely open source mobile phone, including the mobile Linux platform and application software, and as such is sold "unlocked" and can be used with any GSM network.

There are currently three voices in the world of open platform for handphones. The Openmoko Neo FreeRunner is ahead of the other two (the LiMo Foundation and the Open Handset Alliance) in terms of rolling out handsets in the actual world market.

About the phone:
Operating the device seems not difficult because it has built-in core software that’s meant for recording contacts, dialing, and SMS. Neo FreeRunner is going to be available in two versions – 900MHz and 850MHz models.

Aside from that, it has 128MB WSDRAM and 256MB NAND flash memory. Making it more competitive is the 2.8-inch VGA touch screen having 480 x 640 resolution. Yes, anything you want done can be achieved with a touch of finger. Connectivity available is 802.11 b/g, AGPS, and GPRS 2.5G. Bluetooth is also provided.

Open source everything:
Openmoko hopes that by using open source software other developers can also make something unique out of the Neo FreeRunner handset.

Open source hardware:
Openmoko has made available downloadable Pro-Engineer format CAD files under a Creative Commons license for the developer community. It’ll be interesting to see how the developer community adapts the insides of FreeRunner to various form factors and application areas.

Open source software:
The Openmoko Neo FreeRunner comes equipped with a GNU/Linux OS base, and a core system for dialing, SMS and recording contacts. It currently does not include a camera, but it wouldn't surprise us if it is somehow modified into one. In about a month, a brand new software suite will be released that will provide location-based applications.

The FreeRunner can be a good training ground for the Linux community to adapt their codes/programs from desktop to this phone. So if you want to move beyond the narrow confines of the Windows Mobile operating system, or Nokia's Symbian OS doesn't float your boat, you might want to try this one out.

Discussion of specifications:
The FreeRunner will come in two versions at first: 850MHz or 900MHz Tri-band GSM. It packs in 128MB WSDRAM and 256MB NAND of flash memory, and includes a 2.8-inch VGA touch screen (at 480 x 640), Wi-Fi at 802.1 1b/g, AGPS, and GPRS 2.5G. And it of course has Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity, plus a couple of 3-axis motion sensors.

Upgrading and customization of the phone:
Users would have to become familiar with an apt-based (i.e. Debian, a Linux OS) Linux distribution. Programs and customization can be chosen over a device manager that links to a few sites, either OpenMoKo-related or certified sites. This in turn will definitely boost the sales of network operators’ bandwidth.

Endless possibilities:
The phone comes as a basic one. Much of the additional functionality is still in the developer stage and Linux skills are required to get many of them to work. At present new versions of the firmware are posted almost every day on the Openmoko web site. This is to say initial users are most likely to be open source / Linux geeks. Openmoko will eventually release a consumer version with fully functional, stable software.

One of the interesting things about this phone, according to Shiroh, an executive of the company, is “what people will do with this phone. What will people write in the open source community that I can't even imagine? It's the things that are completely unexpected that I'm really looking forward to."

So, what do you think are the exciting things we can do with the phone?
1) Walkie-talkie with GPS tracking?
2) Guitar tuner?
3) GPS assistant?
4) Add a camera (this is possible with hardware openness) and have conference call via GSM or WIFI?
5) Add an infra-red (again, possible) and have gyro-sensed remote control?
6) Digital drum machine? It’s all touchpad anyway. Let's throw in MIDI interface too.
7) Act as interface control of WII?
8) Many more unthinkable ideas?... :@)

Openmoko’s Neo FreeRunner phone can be availed at a retail price of USD399.

More info at:
OpenMoKo: www.openmoko.com; www.openmoko.org.
LiMo Foundation: www.limofoundation.org
Open Handset Alliance (Google Android): www.openhandsetalliance.com

Note:
1. Click on the pictures for original resolution of 480x640 VGA size.
2. Pictures are from www.openmobilefree.net (Chinese language) and www.openmoko.com.

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