June 19, 2006, 2:15 PM — In another indication of the momentum behind the idea of Linux on mobile phones but also of the fragmentation that plagues the segment, a startup company on Monday announced an open Linux mobile smartphone platform.
A la Mobile Inc. said the platform, which comprises a complete software stack including the kernel, middleware and application layer, will become available for handset manufacturers in September and that it will be certified, supported, tested and maintained. A la Mobile said that using the platform will allow handset makers to reduce development, testing and deployment costs and cut down on development time.
Because the platform will be open, handset manufacturers will be able to customize many aspects of the product including user interface components such as icons and branding and configuration elements like the browser. That will set the platform apart from the other proprietary operating systems, A la Mobile said. It will compete against Symbian Ltd., the leading smartphone operating system, as well as Research in Motion Ltd., Microsoft Corp. and PalmSource Inc.
A la Mobile appears to be missing one critical component, however. "It's all very well to make an announcement and the technology could be great but they'll need to be supported by big operators and some of the handset manufactures as well," said Nick Spencer, an analyst with Canalys. A la Mobile's Web site features endorsements from operators including SK Telecom, Telefonica Moviles SA and Sprint Nextel Corp. but the company hasn't announced any official deals with handset makers or operators.
A la Mobile joins a mobile Linux segment that appears to be rapidly adding enthusiastic supporters but is still hampered by a lack of unity. "The big problem has been fragmentation. There's been no body creating software development kits like Symbian or PalmSource has," Spencer said.
He said while the mobile Linux market is likely to consolidate, it's not clear if a significant body of handset makers and operators will ever consolidate around a single mobile Linux platform. It's possible that individual mobile operators will develop their own Linux-based platforms that don't interoperate with others, he said.
There's some indication, however, that at least one group of handset makers and operators may converge around a single platform. On Friday, a group including Vodafone Group PLC, NTT DoCoMo Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.and Motorola Inc. launched a foundation that will design an open, Linux-based platform for mobile devices.
That group joins several others that have formed to try to consolidate the direction of the mobile Linux market. The Linux Phone Standards Forum is creating APIs (application programming interfaces) to allow for interoperability across handsets and the Mobile Linux Initiative is working to unify developments around the mobile Linux Kernel.