Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Linux Mobile fragmentation-or is it consolidation?

My friend Tom Chavez forwarded the news that NTT DoCoMo and some of its handset vendors have blessed the Access (née Palm Source) plans for a Linux-based mobile phone platform:

ACCESS CO., LTD., a global provider of advanced software technologies to the mobile and beyond-PC markets, today announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with NTT DoCoMo, Inc., NEC Corp., Panasonic Mobile Communications Co., Ltd., and ESTEEMO Co., Ltd. under which the companies will study the use of ACCESS Linux Platform(TM) as the basis for developing a shared Linux® platform for mobile phones and an operator pack for NTT DoCoMo. …

Under the MOU, ACCESS will make use of MOAP(L) (Mobile Oriented Application Platform based on Linux) which is the FOMA(TM) mobile platform used by NTT DoCoMo, and will lead the development of a shared software platform that also conforms to specifications of the LiMo Foundation, an independent, non-profit foundation established with the aim of promoting the use of Linux by the mobile industry. The five companies have also agreed to consider development of an operator pack for NTT DoCoMo based on the shared platform. ACCESS intends to begin marketing the commercial products resulting from these efforts during fiscal 2009.

So what we have is an (at least partial) convergence of Access’s technology, with the LiMo standards effort, and DoCoMo’s existing MOAP(L) smart phone platform. DoCoMo sees it as helping LiMo:

"In January this year, NTT DoCoMo established the LiMo Foundation, together with key companies worldwide," said Kiyohito Nagata, senior vice president, managing director of Product Department, Products & Services, NTT DoCoMo. "The conclusion of this memorandum will substantially expedite the development of a shared platform based on LiMo Foundation specifications, as well as promote consideration of an operator pack by the five participating companies. In this way, the memorandum will contribute to the dissemination and growth of the Linux platform and the creation of an associated ecosystem. We expect it to enable the development of products that are even more attractive to NTT DoCoMo."

Of course, DoCoMo is also a founding partner of Google's “Open Handset Alliance”. How can it do both OHA and Limo? Last month, DoCoMo claimed to be agnostic:
Explaining the apparent conflict [DoCoMo spokesman Shuichiro] Ichikoshi said, “Our corporate stance is that we are neutral and open to whatever technologies or software that may contribute to progress/pervasion of W-CDMA services or improvement of our services. Consequently, we will openly evaluate and examine Android, as we do with LiMo.”

In other words, DoCoMo joined OHA/Android to have a seat at Google’s table — at least to keep an eye on them, and (if things go well) to nudge Google in their direction. But, it’s clear from the latest announcement, their main goal is to have a DoCoMo-controlled MOAP(L) going forward, and make sure that it conforms to the LiMo spec (and vice versa). Befitting any former telecom monopoly, they would rather be in the driver’s seat than be a spectator in Google’s show.

So on the one hand, DoCoMo isn’t fully committed to the gPhone alliance. On the other hand, it sees three previously distinct efforts — MOAP(L), Access, and LiMo — as heading on a convergent path. (Perhaps a trajectory fueled by a billion or more of DoCoMo’s yen).

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