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Linux mobile phone progress slower but deeper than expected

Aug 31, 2004 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

BusinessWeek's “European Business” department has written about Linux's prospects in the mobile phone market, where it says Linux interest remains steadfast despite slow progress. High power consumption and unsophisticated software hold Linux behind Symbian and Windows Mobile, the article says, yet potential cost savings have galvanized industry interest in Linux.

BusinessWeek cites Strategy Analytics estimates that Linux will ship in 1.1 million phones this year, while Symbian will ship in 14 million.

MontaVista supplies the version of Linux used in most handsets, the article says, and MontaVista Linux costs handset vendors less than the $5 to $7 per phone royalties they would pay Symbian or Microsoft. A MontaVista spokesperson in Southern Europe is quoted as saying that “every single mobile-phone maker” is looking at Linux for possible use in their mobile phones.

The article notes that Motorola raised expectations for Linux as a mobile phone OS when it announced it would adopt Linux in February of 2003. Since then, however, Motorola has released only two Linux phones, both in China, with two more on the way.

Asian electronics giant Samsung, as well as China's government-owned mobile carrier Datang, and Japan's (and the world's) largest mobile carrier NTT/DoCoMo have also lined up behind Linux, the article notes, with DoCoMo likely to influence other wireless carriers. The article does not mention E28, which has shipped about 80,000 Linux phones so far, according to CEO Roger Kung, former head of Motorola's Asian operation.

The article suggests that Motorola's support of Linux was a strategic move against Symbian, a project to create a mobile connected OS from scratch that Motorola co-founded, along with Nokia and Sony/Ericsson. Shortly after announcing its support for Linux, Motorola divested itself of its 19 percent stake in Symbian, the story notes.

The BusinessWeek article concludes that Linux is currently best-positioned to capture a share of the low-end feature phone market, leaving the high-end smartphone and enterprise cellular data terminal market to Symbian and Microsoft, at least for now (a contention that E28's Kung would surely dispute). The article also concludes that broad-based support means Linux is “here to stay” as a mobile phone OS.

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