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LiMo: New members added; First release on deck; Is the future about mobile middleware?

The LiMo Foundation, a mobile consortium that is building an open software platform for handsets based on Linux, added five new members and plans to launch its first release of its application shortly, according to officials.LiMo will announce Monday that Acrodea, ETRI, Huawei, Purple Labs and Trolltech are joining the consortium, which launched a year ago with founding members Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, Samsung and Vodafone.
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Written by Larry Dignan on

The LiMo Foundation, a mobile consortium that is building an open software platform for handsets based on Linux, added five new members and plans to launch its first release of its application shortly, according to officials.

LiMo will announce Monday that Acrodea, ETRI, Huawei, Purple Labs and Trolltech are joining the consortium, which launched a year ago with founding members Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, Samsung and Vodafone.

While Google's Android gets the attention LiMo has developed software that is open sourced among the companies in the consortium. The goal is to build a Linux-based platform that will clear many of the testing headaches between carriers and handset makers to get devices certified. Third party developers will have access to the APIs to connect to the platform.

Unlike Google's Open Handset Alliance, LiMo isn't focused on the user interface. Instead, LiMo's focus is the software that runs underneath the user interface. Why? Morgan Gillis, executive director of LiMo, reckons that the user interface is the big differentiator for carriers and handset makers.

Gillis said the big risk with the Open Handset Alliance Android effort is that it has a series of business model conflicts. By offering a complete package of the operating system, middleware and user interface, Google and its partners could clash with key players including handset makers and carriers, said Gillis.

I spoke with Gillis on Friday. Here are some key points:

Why was LiMo formed a year ago? Gillis notes that LiMo was formed as an answer to Windows Mobile and Nokia's Series 60 mobile platforms. The problem with both is that they are proprietary and not likely to garner widespread adoption. Meanwhile, the wireless industry was wary of giving two vendors--Microsoft and Nokia--too much power. When's LiMo's first release? Gillis said the "first release of the platform is virtually finished." The platform will be delivered and LiMo powered handsets will launch in the first quarter, said Gillis. Middleware is LiMo's focus. Gillis said LiMo's priority is "all of the technology and drivers underneath user experience layer. LiMo doesn't go into user experience." LiMo is looking to minimize business model conflict among its consortium partners. "If you're a carrier you can use LiMo middleware across all handset models and operating testing is streamlined. You can also layer on top of that whatever user experience appropriate," said Gillis. Is the user experience everything in the mobile market? Gillis argues that the user interface is the differentiator in the mobile market. The primary example is Apple's iPhone. Now other carriers and handset makers are playing catch up. "User experience front and center with brand of carrier and handset maker," said Gillis. "User experience is the differentiator." In addition, Gillis noted that carriers and handset makers much focus more on the user interface. One problem with Windows Mobile is that everything has the same interface. How can the platform launch in the first quarter and then be in handsets at the same time? Gillis acknowledged that the first release of LiMo is a collection of existing software that is already deployed by the founding members. These companies tied together these technology into one platform. "These technologies are proven and market hardened," said Gillis. The main payoff: LiMo's platform has already been tested and certified at carriers, something that could take months for other software makers. How do third party developers access the platform? Gillis said software developers have two routes to access LiMo's platform. First, these software makers can join LiMo. Second, developers can use the APIs that LiMo is about to publish.

What are Android's hurdles? "There are large question marks around the Open Handset Alliance," said Gillis. "There is very little source code. It's also hard to know whether they really intend to be open source. They just haven't been clear." The future of mobile Linux. Gillis said that Linux will be the dominant mobile platform. LiMo is concentrated on Linux and Google will push the open operating system with Android. Future partners. Gillis said LiMo will be announcing new partners throughout 2008 and is in "close discussions with two leading carriers." Although Gillis wouldn't name names, but Verizon Wireless could be a likely partner. Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Vodafone and Verizon, has one parent who is a founding member of LiMo. As for handset makers, Palm would be another likely LiMo partner. The company has been spinning its wheels on a new operating system and has had problems getting its handsets certified at carriers. The plug and play certification of LiMo could bail out Palm on its execution woes.

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