Free for all

Free for all
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First Published: Wed, Jul 18 2007. 12 38 AM IST
Updated: Wed, Jul 18 2007. 12 38 AM IST
Are you paying too much for your mobile phone’s value-added services? Do you feel locked in with your address book data or your custom mobile applications? Ever wondered why applications for other mobiles don’t work on yours, or how you could customize your mobile’s hardware options your way?
Almost all mobile phones today are tightly controlled by their vendors and service providers. The bold and daring OpenMoko project audaciously tries to “free your phone” as telephony moves to the growing and lucrative markets of mobile applications and computing. OpenMoko hopes to achieve its lofty goal through a three-pronged strategy. One: It offers a modified version of the free and alternative operating system called Linux to power the phone. Linux rivals Microsoft Windows, is totally free and highly customizable, and runs on any imaginable device beyond desktops and laptops.
Two: OpenMoko invites businesses and software developers to freely customize from existing software which runs into thousands.
Three: It encourages them to crack open the mobile phone with a screwdriver and modify the phone to suit their needs. In fact, OpenMoko even ships its debut handset, the Neo1973, with hardware tools to hack it.
Hands free
The sleek and sexy Neo1973 handset is the first of many that will showcase the OpenMoko platform. The round-edged phone is designed and produced by the Taiwanese manufacturer, First International Computer (FIC). Listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, the company’s other products include PCs, motherboards and embedded computing systems.
FIC makes notebooks for HP and Gateway and sold over a million mobile phones in China last year. The Neo1973 is named for the first year of mobile telephone communication: The inventor of the mobile phone, Martin Cooper, made the first mobile call in 1973. Currently, the www.openmoko.com website offers worldwide release of two models of the Neo1973, the base for $300 (about Rs12,000), and the advanced for $450 (about Rs18,000). The latter ships in a geeky-looking “bomb-proof” type of faux case, and contains the model, with various hardware tools to crack open and tinker with the phone. Don’t rush to buy the phone yet, as this initial launch is exclusively for developers who wish to create innovative solutions and paradigms around the “hacker-friendly” phone.
OpenMoko also targets enterprise businesses and entrepreneurs who wish to explore new business opportunities that could arise from this new paradigm. Who will be the next Bill Gates, Sabeer Bhatia or Google of OpenMoko with the next billion-dollar idea?
“For the first time, the mobile ecosystem will be as open as the PC’s, and mobile applications as diverse and more easily accessible,” says Sean Moss-Pultz, architect of OpenMoko, and product manager of FIC’s mobile communication business unit.
The public release of upgraded phones for ordinary folks is slated for October, with the basic model at $450, and the advanced at $600. Those GSM-based Neos will ship with a photographic-quality touch screen and assisted-GPS, and Wi-Fi for wireless internet access. The software can be designed to interact with you using fingers on the touch screen. A stylus is also present.
Meanwhile, those who cannot wait are encouraged to port the OpenMoko to other devices. A computer hacker has already ported it to the Palm Treo handset. True to the spirit of openness and transparency in everything, all business and technical aspects of OpenMoko are publicly shared and discussed via a public wiki website at Openmoko.org.
Wish list
Enthusiasts from the growing OpenMoko community are already pouring their ideas and wish lists for future models at the http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/Wish_List site. OpenMoko will run on all sorts of devices, including digital cameras, DVD players, and convergence devices. You can even collaborate to manufacture your own. The vibrant community is recommending that OpenMoko and Neo should offer the ability to use multiple SIMs (imagine using SIM cards from both Airtel and Hutch); laser-projection keyboards so you can type on any surface on an actual-sized virtual keyboard projected by lasers; fingerprint sensor; digital compass; and a TV and radio receiver. Another innovative recommendation: two-way walkie-talkie, so users could communicate in locations with no GSM coverage, in crowded networks or at festivals.
Some developers are working to run a software-based EPABX and intercom on the OpenMoko. Others are working on developing heart-rate and other medical monitoring sensors and software.
India’s huge talent pool of IT professionals and entrepreneurs already imagine the fantastic opportunity here. Do inform us of your projects once you formally register at the OpenMoko site. We also hope to carry a review of the consumer phones when they finally launch in October. So don’t hang up, your excitement is being processed.
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First Published: Wed, Jul 18 2007. 12 38 AM IST
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