Open Handset Alliance and LiMo – Why both initiatives are here to stay

By Jason Whitmire

It’s easy to take the fragmentation of the mobile phone industry for granted. With over 40 different proprietary and Open Source Middleware and Application Frameworks addressing Ultra Low Cost, Entry, Feature and Smart Phone market segments, software costs have exploded and are expected to hit some 25% of the entire Bill of Materials on a mobile phone this year. No wonder mobile network operators are asking the industry to stop the madness and consolidate around a limited number of pre-defined platforms.

Many operators very clearly see Microsoft, Symbian and one to two versions of Linux as the only future software platforms that will comprise their terminal roadmap.  Linux is unique in that most Tier 1 OEMs – with the exception of Nokia – plan to gradually replace the proprietary software addressing the feature phone segments (where by far the most volumes of phones are shipped today and in the future).

With this in mind, two juggernauts – Open Handset Alliance and LiMo
– promise to alter the landscape for the third software platform –
Linux – for good. The LiMo Foundation’s goal is to defragment the Linux
handset market by creating a Linux-based mobile platform that lowers
development costs, increases flexibility, and yields differentiated
devices. The goal of the Open Handset Alliance is to deliver solutions
to enable complete open software, open devices, and an open ecosystem.
Are these movements destined for perpetual conflict?

Not exactly. Both have vastly different implementations that
complement the end-goal of the mobile operator (to consolidate the
industry around one to two Linux platforms). Both the Open Handset
Alliance and leverage open source business models, and both rely
on industry leaders to contribute market-proven technologies to open
source community.   Many of the players/members/founders are the same
OEM and silicon companies in each camp to remain relevant to operators
who narrow down to a single Linux platform, whichever they select.

LiMo and the Open Handset Alliance will likely both achieve many of
their consortium goals in the market, avoiding a zero sum game. In
fact, it doesn’t have to be that Open Handset Alliance is the exclusive
platform for any OEM or carrier, or even exclusive Linux platform, but
very clearly the open source counterbalance will be a LiMo compliant
platform. Linux fragmentation still exists and will for some time
Outside of the Linux world, however, competition from other platforms
including Symbian and Microsoft is immense, intense, pervasive, and
won’t sit idly by as the Open Handset Alliance and LiMo try to gain
traction. For either partnership’s long term survival, its imperative
that the two determine how to co-exist and even mutually benefit from
one another at the expense of the non-Linux and fragmented Linux
parties.

Jason Whitmire has more than 14 years of executive marketing and management experience in semiconductor and system software. He currently serves as General Manager of Wind River’s Mobile Solutions business. Previously he was a managing director of FSMLabs, where he headed the worldwide wireless and EMEA businesses, and he was head of business development for wireless software at Infineon Technologies for four years. Additionally, Jason has held senior product management, marketing and business development positions at two European mobile network operators. Jason got his start in the wireless arena in 1993 while representing the US government in international spectrum and privatization negotiations.

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