Monday, August 13, 2007

Mobile LinuxWorld: Motorola

In Thursday’s visit to LinuxWorld Expo, I decided to focus on mobile Linux — both because I’m interested, and also (like Linux on the server 5 years ago) because there are a lot of interesting and important changes happening right now.

Probably the biggest news at LinuxWorld was that Motorola unveiled its new open source initiative at the show. Consistent with Motorola’s youth-oriented (i.e. text messaging) ersatz word construction (rokr, razr, etc.) the Linux initiative is called Motomagx (or MOTOMAGX if you’re screaming). I spent a half hour in the Motorola booth, talking to someone from the UK about the strategy, and then filled in the gaps up with online research.

Motorola has been talking about its Linux phone strategy for more than five years. Unlike Nokia (which has a very consistent platform strategy), Motorola has been dabbling with various technologies, often with no two phones in the same family using the same OS. Thus far, Motorola has mainly used Linux for a series of Chinese smartphones.

This week’s news was about phones, about a new corporate platform strategy, and about Motorola’s embrace of open source. [Since I’m posting a little late, “this week” refers to the week of Aug. 6]

New Phones

[Z6]This week the Motorola booth was showing two new Linux-based phones: the music-optimized MOTOROKR Z6 and the Motorola RAZR2 V8 handsets, both of which are now shipping. As the press release says, “The RAZR2 V8 will be Motorola’s first Linux-based device bound for North America, representing another milestone in the company’s global mobile Linux leadership.”

I was a little puzzled, because this week it’s called a Motorokr Z6 but 7 months ago it was a Motorizr Z6. (Both were said to be Linux based). Interestingly, the official page for the Motorokr Z6 has a picture link that in the HTML says “Motorizr Z6.” (Today the Motorizr seems to come in a Z3 and Z8 but not a Z6).

Meanwhile, the Motorola RAZR2 V8 was announced in June, and is an EDGE version of the RAZR2 V9 phone for WCDMA networks.

New Platform Strategy

Motorola had a big booth at a Linux show. Although it would love to have attendees buy a phone, the booth (and the full day of training sessions) were intended to attract developers to the Motomagx platform.

As I understand it, Motorola’s new platform strategy segments the handset market into three tiers:
  • Low end is Ajar targeted at mass-market phones, which is expected to comprise 30% of unit sales. Oddly, the Ajar website has info for handset vendors, but it’s hard to imagine someone else would license this.
  • Mid range is Motomagx (Linux). In (last) Monday’s press release, Motorola said Linux will be 60% of all unit sales “in the next few years.”
  • High end is Windows Mobile or Symbian, as represented by its Q phone (as well as the MPx200, MPx220) and Motorizr Z8, respectively.
This is analogous to the Nokia platform strategy, which uses the proprietary S40 for its low-end phones, and S60 (with Symbian) for its high-end phones. Motorola’s difference is that it has unprecedented hopes for going from little to mostly Linux across a broad swath of customers in the developed and developing world; Motorola will either drive Linux adoption in mobile phones, or show why Linux is not yet ready for such widespread usage.

The new Motomagx platform will be replacing Motorola’s existing proprietary platform, Synergy. Motomagx should be comparable to the Synergy UI, as in the V3xx phone being shown in the booth. The features should also be comparable, although (as with any platform) I expect the Motomagx features to grow over time.

Even the names have meaning: Synergy and Ajar sound like code names, while Motomagx is a Motorola vowel-impaired consumer brand. Is this “Intel inside”? To me, a platform brand would imply a common user experience and set of features — not merely an enabling technology for a family of unrelated devices.

The branding ties back to Motorola’s overall phone strategy. As the inventor of the hand-held mobile phone, Motorola seems to be a company that distinguishes itself with hardware design and while software has been just an afterthought. If Motorola is branding a software platform (and not just a family of hardware products), perhaps this is changing.

Open Source Strategy

Unlike earlier one-off Linux efforts aimed at China like the Motoming (A1200), the new phones reflect more of a consistent platform strategy. The new phones use a stock Linux kernel, and the Z6 is “all open source.”

On the one hand, Motorola is being utterly corporate, as befits a company that’s been one of the top 3 mobile phone makers for the past 30 years. It’s got its fingers into all the various Linux standardization initiatives:
  • Linux Mobile (LiMo), a gated source effort driven by European mobile phone carriers;
  • LinuxFoundation, the main nonprofit promoting Linux for all uses (big and small); Motorola had a director seat for OSDL (before its bailout) and now has one for the Linux Foundation.
  • CE Linux Forum, the group intended to commoditize MontaVista Linux.
  • Gnome Mobile initiative, the group trying to adapt GNOME and GTK for mobile phones (with support from Intel, Nokia and others)
The one that is missing is the Linux Phone Standards Forum (LiPS), another group trying to establish phone-specific Linux standards.

On the other hand, what’s most interesting is that Motorola is actually going to be a real open source company — like say an IBM and not like most of the companies using embedded Linux (such as TiVo or Linksys). Rather than testing the letter of the law as to the GPL and embedded Linux, Motorola has decided to comply with the spirit.

It has created its own portal where it hosts open source projects. One of the first things posted was the user interface for the Z6:
ROKR Z6 Open Source Components Released - ROKRZ6
Motorola is pleased to announce the release of the Open Source packages for the ROKR Z6 phone, as required by the terms of the GNU Public License. This release represents the first distribution of open source code used in our next generation Linux-Java mobile phone platform.
Guy Martin - 06/25/2007 2:17 PM CDT
As with any firm-sponsored open source effort, many questions remain, both about Motorola’s intentions for open source and how successful they will be.

Is Motorola just throwing the code over the wall, or does it expect to share development (and decision-making) with outside partners? Does it expect others to use the technology or is this merely just complying with the terms of the GPL (or being a good OSS corporate citizen)? Even though an open source implementation is the most open form of standardization, telling the world “this is an open standard” is unlikely to be enough.

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