Can open source save the mobile market?

Can open source save the mobile market?

Summary: The mobile market has a big problem.Despite endless hype, the iPhone, Android, Blackberry e-mail and all the rest, data still represents less than 5% of the market.


The mobile market has a big problem.

Despite endless hype, the iPhone, Android, Blackberry e-mail and all the rest, data still represents less than 5% of the market.

Today's question is whether open source can change that. My inbox is filled with notes from vendors and others claiming yes we can:

  • Microsoft is now widely expected to be running NetBSD on the next version of its Sidekick mobile device.
  • Volantis says its GPL'ed Mobility Server supports 5,700 devices and can link them to Web 2.0 services like Picasa, Flickr and Google Docs.
  • Students at RPI have an open source iPhone application that lets you track your personal finance.

I am assuming this is just the tip of a large iceberg. Open source developers are doing all they can to open up cellular phones to the world of data.

The problems remain the phones and the data plans. Can you imagine running Volantis services on a Razr? And how many consumers can afford to add true Internet data to their mobile subscriptions -- broadband plans cost $70-90/month and are not all-in or even all-accessible.

The best thing open source brings to mobility is a dose of competition. Contrary to those who think open source is socialism, open source application vendors compete fiercely, and with high levels of imagination, to bring new capabilities to market and spin some money from them.

It's all about carrier lock-in. So long as phones and services are tied to specific carriers there is an enormous consumer risk in trying anything. And in the present economic environment it doesn't take much risk to turn maybe into a negative shake of the head.

What unlicensed systems like WiFi really have going for them is they deliver real Internet service -- no gatekeepers, no special requirements. If the Obama stimulus program is to do anything for the mobile Internet it needs to tear down those walls.

The President should ask why that device in his pocket can't do anything but e-mail.

Topics: Mobility, Open Source

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  • I was waiting for somebody to....

    ...pick up on MS using NetBSD.

    Now how about you all write something on the Super supercomputer the government asked IBM to build that will run on Linux. :-)
    • A good idea

      I'll look into it and see if we can advance the
      story. Thanks!
  • Did you overlook the obvious?

    [i]The President should ask why that device in his pocket can?t do anything but e-mail.[/i]

    Because that was what is was designed for, email, not surf the web or whatever else you would like.

    Maybe what the President should be asking is why his pen cannot do anything other then place ink on paper. It clearly should come with WiFi
    • Inquisitive users drive innovation

      My point is that inquisitive users looking for
      more capability are what help drive innovation.
  • WIMAX was/is supposed to change that

    Once you have WiMAX set up, you can use it for ... anything! Desktop and laptop internet connectivity plus handheld device connectivity. Just add VoIP and you can see the WiMAX Steamroller coming at those cell companies.
    Roger Ramjet
    • You're right, Roger

      Unfortunately the standards body running WiMAX
      decided to make it mobile before they made it
      final. Thus they gave it no coherent business
      model, and when investment in the space tanked
      no one picked it up.