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World’s first Linux “PDA phone” on the way?

Aug 18, 2005 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 4 views

A Chinese mobile phone hardware vendor and a Singaporean smartphone and PDA phone designer will jointly develop a Linux “PDA phone.” Longcheer Technology and Oswin Technology have additionally agreed to jointly market each other's products, which include “knock-down” phones, and smartphones and PDA phone designs.

Oswin is a Singapore-based ODM (original design manufacturer) that designs embedded devices that are manufactured and marketed under various brands by other companies. To date, its PDA phone designs have run Palm OS. The newest version of Palm OS — Cobalt — runs on ARM processors, however, and Oswin says its newest PDA phone design — though built for Cobalt — can also run Linux and Windows Mobile. That design is called the Zircon A108, and is likely the basis for a Cobalt-based PDA phone that Oswin's former manufacturing and marketing associate, GSPDA (Group Sense PDA) of Hong Kong, has pledged to ship.

The Zircon A108 design may figure into Oswin's deal with Longcheer, and could serve as the design foundation for the first-ever Linux-based PDA phone. This could, in turn, result in a widely available Linux-based ODM PDA phone.

In any case, the companies have confirmed that in addition to selling each other's products, they will collaborate on new smartphone and PDA phone designs. They have indicated that the first such product will be a PDA phone based on Linux, with a Windows-based smartphone to follow. Both products are expected to ship in the first half of 2006, the companies say.

Currently, Windows Mobile “PDA phone” designs are fairly common, often sourced by Taiwanese ODM HTC. Contract manufacturing powerhouse Flextronics has also announced plans to develop ODM Windows smartphones .

Longcheer and Oswin

Longcheer currently offers seven mobile phone mainboards, and four case variations, including the “Case D” model shown at right. The deal gives it exclusive two-year rights to import, distribute, market, and sell certain Oswin products in China under the Longcheer design brand. The Oswin products that Longcheer will market in China include a series of PDA phones and smartphones running on “open platform operating systems,” the company says.

Shanghai-based Longcheer currently sells “knock down” mobile phone hardware throughout the PRC (People's Republic of China). CKD (complete knock-down) and SKD (semi-knock down) refer to types of manufacturing in which products are sold in kit form, for later reassembly. CKD/SKD was pioneered in the automotive industry, and is usually done internationally, to exploit low labor rates and save on import/export tariffs.

As part of the collaboration with Longcheer, Oswin will have rights to distribute selected Longcheer products under its own brand for two years. Oswin is based in Singapore, the import/export capital of the Pacific rim, if not the world. It says it plans to distribute the Longcheer CKD/SKD products in Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Russia, Africa, Middle East, and South America.

Thus, it appears likely that the companies will collaborate on PDA phones that will be designed by Oswin, manufactured as kits by Longcheer, and distributed to Oswin's international manufacturing and marketing partners. The phones will likely be distributed with a Linux-based OS, which Oswin's international partners will be free to swap out for Palm OS or Windows Mobile, according to what best fits their market. By next spring, Palm OS is likely to be marketed primarily as a stack of middleware running on Linux.

According to Longcheer, smartphones were introduced in China in 2003, and have a user base expected to hit 23 million by 2006. Smartphones will likely dominate China's mobile-phone market by 2008, the company says.

Longcheer says its internal development efforts are currently focused on mid-range mobile handsets with features such as GRPS, MP3- and MPEG4-playing, and camera functions. It says the deal with Longcheer will enable it to enter the G3 and smartphone markets.

Longcheer's CEO, Dr. Du Junhong, said, “This landmark collaboration is the first that Longcheer has entered into with an overseas original design manufacturer.”

Oswin partner GSPDA introduced a Linux-based PDA in China, in the fall of 2002.

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