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OpenMoko's open source mobile phone an iPhone alternative?

  • Open Source

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.


"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." ---- Vapourware.

Ugly Vapourware at that :)

I'm not sure how having a alpha release equates to it being vapourware. From Wikipedia: "Vaporware is a software or hardware product which is announced by a developer well in advance of release, but which then fails to emerge". This product fails to meet that description by the fact it has been released and is available to purchase.

You might have made that call based on the fact that the device cannot currently be used to its full extent immediately, and the GTA02 might never materialise, but the same could be said for any new piece of software on SourceForge in aplha status. The software is under development and is not suitable for use in a production environment. It is not, however, vapourware.

As for it's aesthetics, it's not as slick as the iPhone, and has a somewhat baby-toy look, but then again, I doubt it had the amount of money spent on it that the Apples of this world can afford to plough in to product design.

I'm not sure that it will gain a huge consumer following in the short term, not only because they won't have the marketing budget, but also because it doesn't have the style that the materialistic consumers of today demand. In the medium- to long-term, it has a chance of gaining traction once developers produce third-party additions that will make this more flexible and supportive than other phones.

Consider the iPhone again - the only way you can add applications at present is by writing widgets (small, self-contained web pages). You can only write helper applications - nothing that can actually interact with the phone other than through a set number of API calls. Other phones are similar, only allowing you to run Java applets with the same limitations. The Neo1973 allows you to install any application written in C that uses the open X windows system and GTK toolkit, which gives you much more control and opens up the market to a more diverse range of applications.

True, most of the last paragraph will only mean anything to developers and hackers, but the results of that openness will positively impact future generations of 1973 owners, whether technically aware or not.

It annoys me that people can just disregard a new device on the market based on looks, but I realise your comment is probably an off-the-cuff remark from an Apple fanboy ;-)

Sometimes its so easy I almost feel guilty.

To be honest I'm getting alittle annoyed at people using the term "iphone alternative" to every smartphone that comes on the market. ( or says it is coming on the market, at some point, in the future, maybe. ) Especially if you cant actually even fullfill the "phone" part of the equation.

It is nice though to see that this one at least has a touch screen which is better than alot of other phones being touted.

And for the record I think the iphone itself could seriously use some feature upgrades such as MMS.

"Vapourware - Any product that has been announced but hasnt actually seen the light of day." - Tobes.

So you're annoyed, in this instance, at me using the term "iPhone alternative", when you (almost) agree it's correctly used in this context? Not to mention I didn't call it one - I questioned whether it was a valid assumption in the title.

As for feeling guilty for taking easy shots - shoot away. I enjoy the challenge and opportunity to flex my cognitive muscles!

Oh, and you're still a fanboy! ;-)

I wish my Vodafone supplied firmware had bugzilla :( In other news, I like the OM 7 "neo" video.... Don't really know why....

[...] OpenMoko's open source mobile phone an iPhone alternative? - Ben Balbo writes about OpenMoko Neo 1973, just released to the public. [...]

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