Grant McWilliams

Tech Gadgets Blog

Gadget Blog

Another Linux Cell Phone OS?

LG unveiled their new GW990 Smartphone and guess what OS their using - Intel's Moblin! As if my articles about Nokia going Linux, the flood of Android phones, Palms WebOS and the Access Limited wasn't enough LG which is a very large manufacturor of phones is going to be selling a phone using Moblin - a Linux OS. This phone will use Intel's Moorestown chipset which basically means it has an Atom CPU not unlike what's in my Netbook. It has a 4.8 inch, 1024x480 display, and boasts about 4 hours of talk-time and 300 hours of standby period. A 4.8 inch screen and a netbook cpu in a phone? After Google released the 1Ghz Nexus One phone I thought we'd plateau for a while. I don't know how big this thing is but it would seem that having a screen 1/2 inch bigger than my Nokia n800 (and 1.3 inches bigger than an iphone screen) would make for a phone that's quite large.

I don't have a lot of information but they've not said whether they're bringing the phone to the US or not. Does ANYONE (and I mean anyone including Microsoft and Apple execs!) have any doubts that Linux will dominate the future smartphone market?

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Wanting what you can't have (without importing)

I notice that the Motorola Droid has been released in Europe as the Motorola Milestone.. This means that there's a GSM Droid running around out there! I will be checking out bringing an unlocked speciman here so I can use a pre-paid sim card in it. I found some sim cards that have free incoming calls and allow you to connect to 3G for data. My plan would be to use Google Voice to make all my connections but I'd be using a small amount of data access to connect. It seems that if you pay by the MB a pre-paid card could get expensive depending on what you are doing. I'd have to try it to see what kind of data I'd be downloading a month but if it was very small I theoretically could have a Droid for zero dollars a month. This I like.

Anyway once I started looking around to see where I could buy a GSM droid I thought I'd put together a list of the importers and all the cool geek toys they have. I used to surf these sites back in the Sharp Zaurus c-3000 days because Sharp never imported their very cool tiny computer. Later I wanted a Panasonic R-7 sub-notebook and again I was going to have to import it. There's several ways of doing that and some are cheaper than others (but more work).

Anyway Dynamism is one of my favorite importers but is also the most pricey. I just like wandering their site looking at gadgets. Also GeekStuff4U is pretty cool so spend some time there as well.  I'll wet your appetite with the photo to the right. A 4 lb laptop with dual monitors? Pretty cool.

Or how about a danger bomb clock? You need to diffuse the bomb every morning by severing the right wire. :-) Not to mention light saber chopsticks, R2D2 soy sauce bottle etc.. There's a lot of junk but still fun to look at.

 

A few other sites that I used to spend time at but haven't in a while are listed below.

Sometimes you get busy and forget these sites exist. If however, you're a gadget nut like I am you'll have fun there.

 

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Rest in Piece Windows Mobile

Computerworld just did an article on Windows Mobile smartphones sales dropping this quarter by 20% while smart phone sales in general increased by 13%. This doesn't surprise anyone because Windows mobile 6 stunk and the update (6.5) just stunk in new areas. Blackberry has it's loyal corporate followers, the iphone has taken the world by storm and the Linux phones (everyone else at this point) are a steamroller coming. There 's a chance that Windows Mobile 7 could turn this around but most people agree that by the time version 7 comes out Android and the other Linux OSs will have trampled it. There's a chance it's not dead but I don't think it's a very large one. There was a time when nobody thought Microsoft could screw up. They were a machine that only a few companies were able to compete against. With Windows Mobile they had the opportunity to take the cell phone world by storm and replace Symbian (the market leader in the consumer sector) and Blackberry in the corporate sector because Microsoft already owned both of those computing markets. The fact that they blundered just shows they didn't understand that cell phone users don't wish to have Windows XP on their Cell phones. Apple proved this by providing a simple effecient gui that works without a Stylus.

A second announcement just surfaced that showed Samsung, the world second largest cell phone manufacturer (after Nokia) bringing out their own Smart Phone OS - Bada OS. My immediate reaction is "nobody would be dumb enough to create an OS from scratch anymore" and upon further examination my reaction proves sound - it's Linux. So lets recap here.

As of Q3 2009 according to Gartner

  • Symbian, the OS used by Nokia devices, finished first with 44.6%
  • Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS finished second with 20.8%
  • iPhone finished third with 17.1%.
  • Windows Mobile had 7.9% of the total smartphone OS market
  • Google's Android phones a 3.5% share

Palm I believe is in the 1.?% marketshare. What's interesting about this is that Android has only been on one widely available phone and it's been for the most part a sales failure and yet it still garnered 3.5% of the market. Windows Mobile is available on many phones by the biggest carriers and only garnered twice that and is losing it at a horrific rate. Verizon's (Motorola) Droid and Droid Eris has hit the mainstream running and has posted record numbers. This is the first Android phone that most people will ever hear of.

Gartner has predicted in the next 3 years Android will have 18% of the market putting it in second place behind Symbian. My personal feeling is that when Maemo 6 comes out Nokia will start to replace Symbian. I'd also like to see Palms WebOS do well but I also think it needs to a phone of equal stature to the OS. The Pre just isn't the phone I want to buy. I'd like to see Palm do a rotatable wide screen iphone/Droid style of phone and get the lead out of the app store. There still isn't hardly any apps and the ones that are there don't work.

Recap on Smart Phone Operating Systems

  • Google's Android - Linux
  • Samsung's Bada - Linux
  • Nokia's Maemo - Linux
  • Palm's WebOS - Linux
  • Access OS - Linux
  • LiMO R2 - Linux
  • Apple iPhone OS - BSD Unix
  • Blackberry - proprietary
  • Windows Mobile - proprietary

Do the proprietary OS's have a chance? I don't think so. I will reiterate my many statements toward the eventual dominance of Linux in ANY embedded market. At some point all custom and/or embedded devices will run variations of Linux.

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Are cell phones getting out of hand?

The frequency of smart phone news is quickening. With the release of the Palm Pre running on the 600mhz ARM cortex A8 processor we've been jetisoned into a different era. The iPhone 3GS was released quickly after using the same CPU and faster 3D acceleration.  Motorolla followed up with the Droid and now it seems weekly we have more 600 mhz cell phones being released. Not only do I wonder about having 600 mhz in my pocket I wonder about the effeciency of the software. There was a time when a 50mhz Motorolla 68060 was a screaming cpu that did everything you ever wished. Now we 600 mhz in our cell phones and are yearning for more. I think there's just too many levels of abstraction.

Anyway the purpose of this post is to comment on a new announcement by Ziilabs, a division of Creative Technology. The interesting point of their Concept phone is the cpu is a dual core ARM 9 (mhz unknown). This is the current generation CPU. The next phone they'll put out will migrate to a 1 ghz Cortex A8 based System on Chip. This would roughly be a 1 ghz iPhone. Not only that but the concept phone has the following specs.

  • Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, Tri-band WCDMA, HSDPA Cat 8 at 7.2mbps
  • Linux-based Zii Optimized Android and Plaszma Support
  • Accelerated OpenGL ES 3D Graphics, Video and Imaging
  • 3.1" 480x800 16M colour Active Matrix OLED with capacitive multi-touch
  • Mini HDMI port for 1080p video output
  • Xtreme Fidelity#8482 X-Fi audio technology
  • 5M pixel rear facing, auto-focus camera
  • VGA forward facing camera for video conferencing
  • USB 2.0 Micro port for connectivity and charging
  • MicroSD storage expansion and SIM card slots
  • 256MB low-power DDR memory
  • Integrated Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth 2.1 EDR and Hardware GPS
  • Composite Video output
  • 1130mAH lithium polymer battery

From this list you might have an idea where they're going with this phone since it has both HDMI and Composite Video output. They also mention Xtreme Fidelity audio and accelerated 3D support.  With the dual ARM 9 cpus they are able to support  1080p playback using H.264, plus 1080p, 24fps encoding, and simultaneous H.264 encode and decode at 720p for videoconferencing. When they move to the 1ghz ARM cortex A8 SoC they'l be able to support full Blu-Ray at 60fps. Get the picture yet? This is something thats very hard to do with the most powerful desktop PC. In addition to that the new cpu will provide 3D acceleration with up to 1 Gigapixel fill rate.

As a side note it runs two versions of Linux (of course) - a specially optimized version of Android and their own Plaszma Linux which I know nothing about.


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Yet another Linux Smart Phone OS enters the market

A week or so ago I blogged about the future domination of Linux in the smartphone market. I mentioned that Palm spun off it's OS division into a company called Palmsource which was bought and renamed Access. Access then started working on a Linux replacement for the PalmOS to be used in Palm hardware devices. They took so long that Palm (the hardware company) created their own Linux based OS called WebOS which you can try out in the Palm Pre and Palm Pixie. Thought to be dead in the water without a hardware vendor Access just resurfaced on the First Else from Else Mobile. The interface is very interesting and new, a word that doesn't get used often in the smartphone industry these days. It seems since the iphone changed everything and became a sales hit everyone wants to mimic the iphone. Makes sense from a commercial standpoint but at some point you might want to be called "better than an iphone" instead of "as good as an iphone". Else is risking a bit but I welcome the diversity nonetheless.  I don't just blog about smartphones for the heck of it considering I don't even own one! I'm blogging about the Else because it's based on Linux. If this thing takes off we will have 4 major Linux platforms in the smart phone market - Android, Maemo, WebOS and Access Linux. This doesn't count the LiMo phones which never seem to materialize. I belive Access Linux is LiMo compatible though since they're a member.

The First Else has roughly the same hardware as an iphone/n900/Palm Pre/Droid which puts it on par with the best. The interface is really where it's at.  There's a video interview of Else Mobile's CEO at  TelecomTV.

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Google Android and Palm WebOS - mobile Linux

Linux has taken the mobile world by storm. About 5 yearas ago I mentioned in one of my classes that at some point Linux would dominate the entire embedded devices world. A student (who was an ameteur embedded developer) laughed out loud and when I asked him if he didn't believe me he replied "It's not that, I'm a realist and this is never going to happen".  I'd like to dedicate this post to that student and I hope wherever he is he's decided to join my reality.

Years ago there was a group of Cell phone manufacturors that joined to make the LiMo foundation - an organization for a unified Linux OS used for mobile applications. Members of LiMo include NEC, DOMOCO, Orange, Panasonic, Vodophone, Samsung, LG and Ericson. With a member list like that you'd think they would take over the world. Palm at the time was making their ancient 16 bit OS still but had decided to spin the OS portion of Palm into another company to focus on making a replacement for the PalmOS. That company, ACCESS announced that it's replacement would be based on Linux and they in turn joined LiMo. Intel on the other hand decided to go it's own way and created a Mobile OS called Moblin. The Moblin project is now under the Umbrella of the Linux Foundation which has members from all over the world. I'm not going to list the Linux Foundation members because that list includes virtually every major Tech company that you've ever heard of.

Nokia is missing from all of these lists because they had invested heavily in their own mobile OS - Symbian which came from the EPOC os of the 90s. Nokia dominated the smart phone market with about 80% saturation so they had no intentions of changing OSs just yet. About a year ago Nokia was down to about 35% saturation and released Symbian to the open source world thinking this was going to help developement. They also started working on Maemo a Linux based Mobile platform for Mobile Internet Devices (not phones).

Palm in the meantime was getting tired of waiting for ACCESS to create their new Linux based OS so they created their own - WebOS. At about the same time ACCESS announced they had finished their Linux based mobile OS but apparently nobody cares.

The big announcement was when Google decided to enter the Mobile Phone OS market with their Android. There was much fanfare and HTC released an Android phone then things got quiet again.

Windows Mobile continued to suck, Symbian continued to lose marketshare and the iphone continued to take that share because it was just awesome (even though it couldn't do copy and paste or multi-task, two features of just about every other OS out there).

Enter fall 2009. Palms new WebOS is amazing but unfortunately saddled to a lackluster phone. Nokia decideds that they will afterall release a Linux phone using Maemo 5. Verizon decides to sell a phone that someone actually wants and goes with the Motorola Droid - the first Android 2 device.

To summarize. The market leader in smart phones uses nothing but open source operating systems (Symbian and Maemo), the second place finisher that's eating up the market is using an mobile OS based on BSD (iphone), Google's Android is a steam roller destroying everything in it's path and will probably be number 2 in as many years and Palm will probably survive thanks to WebOS.

In 5 years I see all Smart Phones having a BSD or Linux OS. Who would have every thought that a 40 year old mainframe OS would become the market leader Cell Phone OS?

I'm currently running Android and WebOS in virtual machines on my desktop. I'll say it again, I love WebOS, they just need to put it on a phone I want.

 

 

 

 

 

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I'm sold (maybe)

A great "preview" of the forthcoming Nokia n900 has been posted at my-symbian.com. I say preview with quotes because after you finally get to the bottom of the page you'll reallize there's 3 more!

I've been using a Nokia n800 for several years as many of you know. I've really liked it but have had reservations with recommending it to others. First, if you use only Nokia software it's a stable device but with the plethora of Linux apps out there who would do that? I sure didn't but in order to have room for everything I wanted to run I had to move the OS to the flash card so I'd have more room. After installing about 200 really unstable apps I finally got my list down to about 30 things I use and even then those things aren't completely stable. So my complaints about the n800 was size, maturity of the apps, worthless hardware buttons, size, bad connectivity (with wifi only) and size. You'll notice that I'm a bit unhappy with the size. This is why I'm posting this photo and a link to my-symbian.com's review of the Nokia n900. How it stacks up to the Nokia n800 and iphone 3GS. -

 

 

  n800 n900 iphone
CPU 400 mhz omap2411 600 mgz core8 600 mhz core8
DSP Not used 430mhz 430 mhz
GPU
Not used PowerVR 430mhz PowerVR 430mhz
Storage
256MB (+64GB flash) 32GB (+16GB flash) 16/32GB
RAM
128MB 256MB w/500MB swap 256MB
Camera
640x480 5.1 MP 3.0 MP
Video
640x480 848x480 640x480
Screen size
4.18" 3.5" 3.5"
Screen res 800x480 800x480 320x480
Keyboard
onscreen Slideout/onscreen onscreen
Wifi 54Mb 54Mb 54Mb
Cell Net none 10 Mb HSDPA 7.2 Mb HSDPA
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Read more: I'm sold (maybe)

Nokia n900 live

I've been a maemo MID user for several years and when I bought my Nokia n800 I was amazed at how easy wireless networking and bluetooth were. At the time Linux was very difficult to setup in this area. Times have changed and the Maemo OS has pretty much stood still. Each successive release we got a new set of bugs and not much else. Things have gotten slightly more stable but for the most part the n800 is underpowered and the UI is aimed at desktop users but with a 4 inch screen. The new Freemantle is supposed to be a drastic change from the past and by this video it looks like it. From the beginning Nokia wasn't committed to the Linux based mobile Internet devices and put all of their resources behind the Symbian OS they own and the Linux OS always seemed more like an experiment than anything. I guess the experiment is over because they've done a ton of work on Freemantle. I've read that it's the first of the next gen Linux MID OSes but it isn't the final one. Freemantle will have a GTK gui and the next one after that will be QT which Nokia now owns. The one improvement that I think they need is to stabalize the software. I don't know if a Communist/Apple approach is best but you have to admit that iphone apps generally work and maemo apps don't. Anyway check out the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrYqemylpIo
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Nokia n900 live

I've been a maemo MID user for several years and when I bought my Nokia n800 I was amazed at how easy wireless networking and bluetooth were. At the time Linux was very difficult to setup in this area. Times have changed and the Maemo OS has pretty much stood still. Each successive release we got a new set of bugs and not much else. Things have gotten slightly more stable but for the most part the n800 is underpowered and the UI is aimed at desktop users but with a 4 inch screen. The new Freemantle is supposed to be a drastic change from the past and by this video it looks like it. From the beginning Nokia wasn't committed to the Linux based mobile internet devices and put all of their resources behind the Symbian OS they own and the Linux OS always seemed more like an experiment than anything. I guess the experiment is over because they've done a ton of work on Freemantle. I've read that it's the first of the next gen Linux MID OSes but it isn't the final one. Freemantle will have a GTK gui and the next one after that will be QT which Nokia now owns. The one improvement that I think they need is to stabalize the software. I don't know if a Communist/Apple approach is best but you have to admit that iphone apps generally work and maemo apps don't. Anyway check out the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrYqemylpIo


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Nokia n900 in motion...

It looks like the Freemantle version of maemo that the new n900 is using is much nicer and more finger friendly than the Diablo that I'm running on my n800. As much as I like Linux I've always thought that the Bora/Chinook/Diablo line of the Maemo OS were very crude and not always stable. It's funny that when I got my n800 I thought it had the slickest wifi and bluetooth configuration of any Linux OS but now times have marched on and my frequent lockups and applications that don't work have gotten on my nerves. Granted I'm using my n800 for way more than what it was designed for. Also Nokia has never been serious about the Maemo devices. It's largely been a community run project with Nokia making the hardware. The freemantle OS and n900 seem to be a break from that trend. I predict (and you can quote me) that at some point Nokia will be making more Linux devices than Symbian.

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