Intel, Nokia to develop mobile Linux devices

The companies will work together on development of Linux-based software projects, and Intel will acquire 3G-related intellectual property from Nokia.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Intel and Nokia have announced a long-term relationship that will see the development of Intel-powered, Linux-based handheld mobile computing devices.

The partnership between the chipmaker and handset manufacturer was announced on Tuesday. Under the deal, the companies will collaborate on several open source mobile Linux software projects, and Intel will license HSPA/3G modem intellectual property from Nokia.

"This Intel and Nokia collaboration unites and focuses many of the brightest computing and communications minds in the world, and will ultimately deliver open and standards-based technologies, which history shows drive rapid innovation, adoption and consumer choice," Anand Chandrasekher, the general manager of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group, said in a statement.

The partners will cooperate on developing common technologies for Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo, which are both Linux-based operating systems.

Moblin is currently under development for use in netbooks, mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and other devices, and Maemo is the operating system that Nokia has used for its N800-series MIDs.

In September, Nokia said the next version of Maemo will incorporate 3G technology for the first time.

Until now, devices such as the N810 have relied on Wi-Fi for their data connectivity.

"Enabling common technologies across the Moblin and Maemo software environments will help foster the development of compatible applications for these devices--building on the huge number of off-the-shelf PC compatible applications," the companies said in their statement.

"The open source projects will be governed using the best practices of the open source development model."

The companies also said they will use open source technologies from Mozilla, oFono, ConnMan, X.Org, BlueZ, D-Bus, Tracker, GStreamer and PulseAudio.

Nokia's handsets are all based on ARM-based chip architecture, which has become a key rival to Intel's x86-based architecture. ARM has dominated the mobile phone market, the x86 is the basis of most desktop computing, but both are now targeting the netbook market.

In a conference call on Tuesday, Chandrasekher said Intel's deal with Nokia aims to "work this [x86-based] family of architecture into future mobile devices", but he declined to specify what kinds of devices were being planned, or when they might appear.

Kai Öistämö, Nokia's device chief, also said in the call that ARM-based architecture "continues to be an important part of Nokia's future".

Telecoms analyst Dean Bubley, of Disruptive Analysis, said on Tuesday that the deal suggests Nokia is not confident that its Symbian mobile phone platform --currently in the process of being open-sourced--will "scale to non-phone devices".

"There is clearly a concerted effort by lots of people, whether it's in the Android or non-Android Linux community, to have a go at Microsoft and Apple's incumbency in notebooks," Bubley said.

"The first round of Linux-powered netbooks did not get acceptance in the mass market--average punters preferred XP because they knew how to use it. There is a vision that a Linux-based platform can change that, but I'm really not sure."

Intel is a prime backer of WiMax, a long-range wireless technology that is a rival to 3G. Bubley hypothesised that, in those markets where WiMax becomes popular, many users will still need 3G as a back-up, due to patchy WiMax coverage and the need to roam into non-WiMax-covered areas.

"Intel could want to create dual-standard products that use both WiMax and 3G," Bubley suggested.

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