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HOT TOPIC: Linux on a roll in mobile phones

Feb 23, 2005 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

It's only been about two years since Linux started becoming a significant factor in mobile phones, an arena that has been dominated by Symbian, Microsoft, and proprietary operating systems. With the burgeoning complexity of mobile phones, feature phones, and smart phones — plus increasing time-to-market pressures — there's a clear movement toward off-the-shelf, third-party operating systems based on industry standards, and Linux figures to be a major beneficiary of that trend.

How rosy is the mobile communications picture for Linux? Early indications in just the first two months of this year are that it will be very positive indeed. Consider Motorola, for example, one of the big three in mobile handsets, which brought its first Linux phone (pictured) to market in 2003. That company is expecting to introduce between eight and ten new Linux phones in 2005, according to the Taiwanese daily newspaper DigiTimes, representing more than 25 percent of the company's planned introductions for the year.

Today, smartphones running Linux represent over ten percent of Motorola's mobile phone sales in China, where it enjoys the number one market position. And China, of course, is the biggest market for mobile phones today. Motorola sources its Linux from MontaVista, as do two other major mobile phone vendors: NEC and Panasonic.

Yet Linux has had virtually no impact on the mobile phones being sold in the US. Nevertheless, with the Model E680 (pictured), a heavily multimedia-oriented device, Motorola recently bowed its first Linux phone for the US market, which may presage more to come.

Trolltech certainly thinks so. That company is the provider of the Qtopia development environment and graphical user interface (pictured) used by many Linux mobile phone makers. Earlier this month, Trolltech CEO Haavard Nord told that 2005 would be a “breakout” year for Linux mobile phones and predicted that over twenty new devices were on the way, representing a new market “surge” for Linux handsets. Notable among these will be the first Linux phone from Ningbo Bird, the largest Chinese mobile phone manufacturer and exporter, expected to be launched by the middle of this year.

Early 2005 also saw the completion of PalmSource's acquisition of China MobileSoft and the adoption of several of its software products, including a Linux software stack for smartphones. Previously, in December of 2004, PalmSource had announced its plans to migrate to Linux in pursuit of the feature phone and smart phone markets, as well as its intention to soon offer the PalmOS as a middleware and application stack for Linux mobile phones.

Elsewhere during early 2005, Texas Instruments bowed a mobile phone reference design that includes an embedded Linux software stack, and Sky MobileMedia Inc. announced the integration of its SKY-MAP software platform with MontaVista's embedded Linux operating system. According to Sky CEO Richard Sfeir, Linux is becoming “the operating platform of choice for handset manufacturers requiring a robust and high performing operating system.” Many feature-phone makers are “migrating to Linux for higher performance products,” he said.

Moreover, there was one other bit of news in early 2005 that bodes well for the future of Linux in mobile phones: the revelation at the 3GSM conference in February that a second of the big three mobile phone makers, Samsung Electronics, has collaborated on a reference design for a 3G Linux smartphone (pictured) with Infineon Technologies, Trolltech, and Emuzed. That design includes not just a Samsung application processor and camera module, but a Samsung optimized Linux kernel as well.

As for Nokia, it is the only one of the leading trio of mobile phone makers that has made no noise about Linux. That's not very surprising, however, since Nokia holds a major stake in Symbian, a vendor that Linux interests are trying to displace.

The balance of this article provides links to coverage relating to the use of Linux in mobile phones. Enjoy . . . !

Linux Mobile Phones Quick Reference Guide

To learn about the latest Linux-powered mobile phones, feature phones, and smartphones, be sure to periodically visit the following continually updated article:

Linux Smartphone Quick Reference Guide

General background about Linux in the mobile phone market

Software/hardware product- and technology-related stories


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