Click to viewThe OpenMoko Neo1973 linux-powered smartphone first crossed our radar last november. Then the iPhone came out and made us double-take on the device's multi-touch screen, and coincidentally similar interface. Yesterday we sat down with the Neo1973, and learned more about its features, three-phase road map, pricing, and how open software collaborators will be compensated for their contributions. We also took a gallery full of pictures. Read on...

Much to our chagrin, the Neo1973 was not powered up during our demo. Product manager Sean Moss-Pultz promised to send video today, but our BS meter immediately hit the red. But Moss-Pultz did give us a slew of details on the hardware and upcoming software.


The Road Map

The device shown here is the "developer's edition." From now until September, it will be sold to developers who want to contribute to the open code base (more on this in the next section). By May or June, the plan is to release the phone to "power users." By the end of the year, Moss-Pultz hopes to have a stable platform for a mass market phone that would sell for $350. Given the generally closed systems that Verizon and Cingular favor, the biggest hope seems to lie with Sprint and T-Mobile for U.S. carriers. And along with the Neo1973, there will be five other "Neo" devices running on the OpenMoko platform, and not all will be handsets. The early adopters are likely to be big businesses that want to deploy OpenMoko using mobile enterprise apps tailored to their workforce.

The name Neo1973 is a reference to Dr. Martin Cooper, who made the first mobile phone call in 1973.


The specs:

FIC Neo1973:

* 120.7 x 62 x 18.5 (mm)

* 2.8" VGA (480x640) TFT Screen

* Samsung s3c2410 SoC @ 266 MHz

* Global Locate AGPS chip

* Ti GPRS (2.5G not EDGE)

* Unpowered USB 1.1

* Touchscreen

* micro-sd slot

* 2.5mm audio jack

* 2 additional buttons

* 1200 mAh battery (charged over USB)

* 128 MB SDRAM

* 64 MB NAND Flash

* Bluetooth (2.0)

The handset is manufactured by FIC (First International Computer, Inc.), a Taiwanese OEM that makes notebooks for HP and Gateway, and sold about a million phones in China last year. That company is also funding the development—OpenMoko is essentially an offshoot. The phone weighs 184 grams, and is just a bit thicker and taller than the iPhone.


Why is the Neo1973 the anti-iPhone? Because it's totally open source. The idea is to collaborate with developers who will create all the basic apps. OpenMoko/FIC will then certify a bundle of those apps and mass market them with the phone along with support. The developers will be rewarded with some kind of revenue sharing deal for the software sold by OpenMoko. Power users will always have the ability to get freeware apps from the community as well.


This is why Moss-Pultz calls the Neo1973 the anti-iPhone. The iPhone is a closed system, and OpenMoko, obviously, is not. The SDK for the open platform is available starting today. The basic OS is running off of the Linux 2.6.17 kernel, with GTK and Matchbox running on top of it for the UI. While the drivers and everything else are under GPL, the data sheets for most of the hardware components are under NDA, in particular the touch screen, which is designed to be used with both fingers and styli.

Ubiquitous Computing

One of the cool software ideas Moss-Pultz had was for location-based profiles that would utilize the GPS system to automatically launch the phone into different settings based on where you are. For instance, there could be a "meeting mode" which would automatically engage various settings once you entered the office, and a different set of settings that would be triggered once you were home. Another interesting idea, feasible with an ecosystem of open source phones, would be scheduled "meetings" between two phones, where a conversation would be automatically set up at a certain time based on openings one each phone's calendar.


OpenMoko's goal is to change phones from being disposable gadgets with rapidly declining value and into mobile computers that get more valuable as you customize them. These ideas and concepts sound great in theory, and would do well if they ever make it to the mass market. The problem is implementation and access—will the promise be fulfilled any time soon? Will US carriers be willing to host a phone with an open development ecosystem? We would be a lot more optimistic about the prospects if Moss-Pultz had shown us a prototype with a screen that powered up. But given the sorry state of handsets and phone platforms today, we'd be crazy not to champion open software efforts like this one.

OpenMoko Neo1973 [Product Page]