ETel Coverage: OpenMoko Opens the Show

by Bruce Stewart

It's ETel time, and it's clear that Surj Patel has put together another fantastic conference. One way I judge these things is how hard it is to decide which sessions to attend, and I can honestly say that for this one there is not one time slot that I'm not frustrated about something I'll have to miss. Nice going, Surj.

I started my day going to the OpenMoko workshop, and I came away pretty impressed with this open source phone project. Sean Moss-Pulz is the product manager for OpenMoko, and a passionate speaker on the need for opening up our phone platforms and the benefits of making some real progress towards a ubiquitous computing environment.

On a basic level, the OpenMoko project is about giving people the ability to change the things they hate about their phones (and I agree with Sean that is a near-universal sentiment. I know I despise mine). The vision is for a truly open, carrier-independent mobile phone that runs a free linux-based OS. And they are very close to releasing such a device (dubbed the Neo 1973, for "new 1973", the year the mobile phone was invented). The OpenMoko roadmap calls for a developer model to be available for purchase next month, and a mass-market version to follow six months later. The phone prototype is a very attractive, touch-screen based device, that vaguely looks like the new iPhone design, and includes strong GPS (but no camera or wi-fi in the first version).

One point that Seam made that seemed to resonate with the audience, was that there is so much more our phones could do and be for us, if we can just break out of the proprietary, carrier-controlled ecosystem that our mobile phones currently exist in. One example he gave was that their lead developer is a guitar player, and thought it would be nifty if his phone could also work as his electronic guitar tuner. So he built that application for the OpenMoko. It wasn't a complicated coding project, but the concept of being able to turn on a cell phone's microphone when it's not participating in a voice call is foreign to other cell phones (as well as scary for security types). Access to the core pieces of the OpenMoko device may enable all sorts of innovative phone uses and applications.

The OpenMoko.org web site was just launched on February 12, and there are all kinds of ways for interested developers to get involved, including the project mailing lists, wiki, IRC channel, bugzilla, planet, etc. The OpenMoko site provides all the hosting and infrastructure needed for app development related to this project. If you're a developer who cares about opening up the world of mobile phones, I suggest you check it out.