LiMo (Linux for Mobiles) is Ready to Go Prime Time

[qi:83] Now that the Google Phone platform has been unveiled, one thing is abundantly clear: Happy days are around the corner for Mobile Linux.
As we have already reported, a special version of the Linux operating system forms the underpinning of Google Mobile OS, which will run the Google (GOOG) devices expected to hit the market sometime next year. That isn’t the only Mobile Linux OS flavor, however; over the next few months a cornucopia of devices powered by Mobile Linux are going to come to market.
The Google Phone
ABI Research predicts that Mobile Linux will be the fastest growing smartphone OS over the next five years and that Linux-based smartphones will account for about 31 percent of such devices by 2012. Smartphone shipments during this period are expected to total 331 million, according to the market research firm. The impetus for such rosy forecasts for Mobile Linux comes from the carriers, who are looking to standardize on three platforms: Symbian, Windows Mobile and Mobile Linux. Who’s Afraid Of Apple & Google? Not Symbian
We have been following the Mobile Linux market closely, writing about Motorola’s (MOT) efforts in China, OpenMoko, andTrolltech and its Qtopia platform. In a similar vein, we believe the Mobile Linux efforts of the LiMo Foundation will provide a major boost to the fledgling mobile operating system.
LiMo is an independent, not-for-profit entity formed back in January by Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo (DCM), Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone (VOD). LiMo is developing a Linux-based software platform for mobile devices that has the blessing of two large carriers — Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo — and top-tier mobile handset makers such as Motorola, Samsung, LG, as well as several Japanese manufacturers. Motorola and Samsung kicked off the project by contributing to it their Mobile Linux-related intellectual property.
“We expect the first LiMo handset to come to the market in the first quarter of 2008, perhaps sooner,” Morgan Gillis, the head of LiMo, told me in a casual conversation last week. When I argued that the previous consortium efforts in the mobile industry haven’t been that successful, Gillis pointed out that the platform is not a technical standard, but rather a common OS platform that is being foisted upon the handset makers by carriers. “The value proposition here is that if you are a handset maker, then you get an entire software stack, and it meets the specs of major operators,” he said.
Vodafone, one of the largest mobile phone companies in the world, is pushing particularly hard for standardization, primarily because the company is interested in deploying applications quickly without having to test them on different handsets, a slow and laborious process. SK Telecom and Orange are also looking to follow the same strategy. The standardized platform strategy was first used by NTT DoCoMo in 2002, and it allowed the Japanese giant to roll out apps in a precise manner at a rapid clip.
Handset makers themselves are interested in taking the cost of maintaining different operating systems out of the equation. The reason, Gillis explained, is Apple (AAPL) iPhone. “There is general recognition that the value is now in the user experience, not the OS. Apple has demonstrated that with its device,” he said. “Handset makers now have to invest in the UI, not the underlying technology.”
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Google, with its smartphone, will further change the user experience — and that is the point. Google’s mobile efforts are focused on interjecting itself between the carrier and the cell phone user and making money off mobile advertising. This model puts the search giant in conflict with the carriers, who are giving mobile advertising and other mobile services lustful glances. LiMo-based phones could help carriers at the expense of the Google Phone, but all that jockeying will come later. Meanwhile, let’s sit back and watch Mobile Linux have its day in the sun.