OpenMoko's open source mobile phone an iPhone alternative?

OpenMoko Neo 1973Announced in November 2006, the Neo 1973, named after the year in which Marty Cooper invented the mobile phone, was released to the public today. Unlike other mobile phones on the market, OpenMoko actively encourage owners to hack away on the device, going so far as to provide an advanced kit for an extra US$150 including a debug board, tools, an extra battery, MicroSD card and USB cable, and a rugged carry box to put them all in.

If you opt for the standard phone at US$300, you’ll get a similar package to any other phone on the market today: a battery, carry pouch, lanyard, 512Mb MicroSD card and USB cable. Standard features of the phone include:

  • 2.8” VGA TFT color display (640*480 @ 283 dpi)
  • Touchscreen, usable with stylus or fingers
  • USB 1.1, switchable between Client and Host (unpowered)
  • Integrated AGPS
  • 2.5G GSM – quad band, voice, CSD, GPRS
  • Bluetooth 2.0
  • Micro SD slot
  • High Quality audio codec
  • Built-in 128 MB RAM and 64 MB NAND Flash

While their site currently only shows a handful of screen shots, the interface seems slick. There are a number of “commercial” type videos featuring the Neo 1973, but none seem to show off the interface in action. Hopefully this will be available soon.The most interesting aspect of the phone, however, is the way OpenMoko support an open source philosophy. The hardware has been specifically chosen based on availability and completeness of documentation, and the phone comes with a debug port with complete access to JTAG, and a serial console! This, coupled with the above mentioned encouragement to “take the casing apart and get at the PCB” shows a manufacturer that embraces and encourages a community of users that will hack and improve on the device, both offering hardware and software related contributions. To aid the creation of software, the device runs on a Linux kernel, uses the GNU C library, the X window system, and the GTK+ toolkit.

In a nutshell - it’s based on open source software and hardware, so the possibilities are, quite probably, endless! Or in the words of the creator: “OpenMoko is Mobile FOSS”.

To those of you that are hopping up and down itching to get your hands on one, there is one caution on OpenMoko’s wiki: “Currently it is not suitable for users. The state of the software at the moment is pre-alpha. If you order a Neo1973, DO NOT expect to be able to use it as an everyday phone for several months.”

For that reason, and because the consumer release version (the GTA02) includes 802.11 b/g WiFi, SMedia 3362 Graphics Accelerator, 2 3D Accelerometers, 256MB Flash and and upgraded processor, I’ll be waiting until October to try one out.

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