Why major mobile handset makers are riding with LiMo

The executive director of the LiMo Foundation discusses his group's efforts to create and establish an open handset platform built on Linux

The LiMo Foundation was formed on January 2007 as a consortium of mobile industry companies joining together to create for handsets an open and standardized software platform based on Linux. Their goal is to deliver an open handset format that will become more widely accepted and used over closed, proprietary platforms. The foundation's major founders include Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone. These companies and other members share leadership and decision making.

LiMo made news in early February 2008 when a number of handset manufacturers jumped from the LiPS Forum to LiMo. Notable companies that committed to LiMo included AMD, Softbank and Orange. Unlike LiPS, LiMo goes beyond creating APIs or establishing user interface standards for mobile versions of Linux. LiMo members' primary efforts go into jointly developing actual software that both hardware and application developers can utilize.

The LiMo Platform will encompass Native, Java and Webkit SDKs, and is set for release sometime during the later half of 2008. This suite of SDKs will provide common Eclipse-based tools to support software development for LiMo-based handsets (which are planned to be available for consumers to buy toward the end of 2008).

We spoke with Morgan Gillis, executive director of the LiMo Foundation, to elaborate on LiMo's role in developing the emerging open handset market.

Would it be correct to say that LiMo is more beneficial to handset makers than it is to software developers?

No. While the LiMo platform does provide unique benefits to handset manufacturers in terms of cost and their ability to participate directly in the realization of the platform, LiMo's role is also to mobilize and empower development talent on a broad scale.

How can software developers benefit and profit from the LiMo ecosystem?

The LiMo Platform is providing developers with a much broader and more direct route to their customers. By having a common set of APIs for a platform that is backed by industry leaders and adopted by the whole industry, third-party developers will have a larger and more stable base upon which to build and develop new revenue streams from applications and services.

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What open source licenses are members allowed to use for code contributed to LiMo?

All LiMo common code is based on contributions under open source licenses or under a community-based license: the Foundation Public License. The APIs and SDKs are made fully available to all developers on LiMo's public web site.

We all know how wonderful it is that Linux is free and open source. But what are the specific strengths of this operating system's technology that makes it appealing to the LiMo membership -- and makes it particularly suitable for next-generation mobile handset hardware?

Linux scales very successfully from smartphones down to very high-volume feature phones and also provides excellent opportunities for "cross-platformization" into other consumer electronics categories.

What about Java?

Java will be implemented into the LiMo Platform.

What have been the biggest technical challenges that LiMo has dealt with in developing the LiMo Platform?

The LiMo Platform makes extensive use of technology that has already been market-proven within commercial handsets, and, therefore, the technical challenges have so far been quite manageable.

More of our attention has been devoted to establishing the procedures and tools -- [which are] now successfully in place -- to enable a group of industry leaders to work efficiently together to deliver a technology platform for the whole industry to use.

Does LiMo have plans to include software to provide WiFi connectivity?

The LiMo Platform will support WiFi connectivity. The decision to implement this functionality will, of course, rest with the handset maker and operators.

What does the LiMo Foundation foresee will become a big factor in the overall Linux handset/mobile market?

One of the most important industry dynamics that is defining the mobile market today is convergence. The ways that entertainment, social media, and other forces are going to integrate with mobile is one of the most wide-open frontiers for our industry.

Third-party developers are under terrific competitive pressure to introduce the new, converged applications and services that will bring about next-generation mobile consumer experiences that exploit convergence.

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How can LiMo help them?

LiMo is providing developers with open technology and market access to a large, stable base of globally deployed mobile technology. With business models evolving so rapidly to capitalize on the revenue opportunities created by convergence, we see the content community figuring more prominently in the mobile industry. The LiMo membership should evolve to reflect this market trend.

There will always be new technological challenges to address. For example, LiMo has a working group today that is designing a security framework to quell threats, in anticipation of support for downloadable native applications in LiMo Platform R2.

The key point here is that LiMo is constituted with the inherent flexibility to address emerging challenges.

The Open Handset Alliance and its Android platform have been getting a lot of press. It looks like you guys will be in a race against them for the hearts and minds, and the attention, of the open source community. For the benefit of third-party developers, and end user consumers, why should it matter at all that LiMo succeeds ultimately in the market and the open source community?

The LiMo Platform will provide much greater choice than Android to handset companies and to consumers; the user interface can be selected freely, as can the applications and the content. For example, will it really be possible for a user to choose Yahoo! as the preferred search provider on an Android handset? I'm not sure.