More Linux cell phones

FIC (First International Computer 大众电脑, Taipei) and Trolltech (Oslo) have announced cell phones that bring open source Linux closer to reality on cellular.

The FIC Neo1973 uses Linux 2.6.17, a Samsung ARM9 processor, a simple case design with a 640×480 2.8 inch touchscreen, and a UI based on a widget kit FIC’s own “OpenMoko” group wrote using GTK2+. There are open APIs to connect to the proprietary GPS and radio parts of the phone. Like the Motorola Linux phones, it patches quad-band GSM/GPRS multiplexing into Linux, but does so using open standards.

The Trolltech Greenphone is more of a development phone for Trolltech’s “Qtopia Phone Edition” UI platform. Using Linux kernel 2.4.19 and based on a Marvell (ex-Intel) XScale PXA270 (ARM) processor, it has a 320×240 touchscreen display. The price is $695 and you have to get it as part of an SDK.

The Greenphone and the Neo really have different purposes, because the two companies’ situations are very different. Trolltech is a software component supplier to many cell phone producers and apparently would like the Greenphone to shorten their customers’ “time to money” for each new phone, which would strengthen Trolltech’s position as a “platform” (QPE is also on Windows phones). FIC, on the other hand, is a computer device maker, as well as contract manufacturer and designer, with nothing to lose in cell phones. So their strategy seems to be to do, as fully and as quickly as possible, whatever is necessary to get legions of open source developers cranking on their hardware. Worst case, they fail with the end-user product but build a strong basis for supplying bigger producers who have better customer access. I guess you could say the Greenphone hands out matches on the street but the Neo lights a fire in a closet.

By linuxdevices count, there are now over 50 (mostly cell phones) Linux devices. Of these, I’ve used the NEC-Panasonic phones as rentals in Japan and they’re great. I also like my [not really] open source Chinese Moto A780. But if you were doing an enterprise application in the U.S. today, it would be pretty hard not to check out the Neo.

$350 for the Neo and a SIM card on a GSM cellular service like Cingular in the U.S. and you’re in business doing sudo apt-get for everything that runs on hundreds of millions of Linux systems.

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