Congratulations Madam, it’s a phone

Now that the cat is out of the box, I can finally tell you a bit more about this project. You probably have seen all the press releases, so I don’t need to recap what you can expect out of it as a user. This is about what’s in for you as a developer, because this is what has attracted me so much as well. Please note though that I’m not speaking officially for FIC here — this is my personal take on the project.

For years, the embedded open source community has been lusting for a hackable phone. A lot of (more or less successful) open source efforts went around putting Linux on hardware running WindowsCE based operating systems. All in all most of these were frustrating experiences, because reverse engineering is just a terrificly time consuming approach and by the end of the day, it’s of questionable legalty as well. If you really manage to put Linux on a phone without the help of a manufacturer it will take you so long that by the time you’re done, it has been already obsoleted. This has happened a lot of times in the past and we want to change it — since although the work being sort of educating and fun (at times), it’s a lot of wasted effort that most of us would rather spend working on actual applications.

Up to today, there is nothing like an open phone available. Instead, most of the so-called “open source friendly” manufacturers are trying to lock you out — by using SElinux, booting signed kernels only, etc. The FIC Neo1973 is different.

The partnership with FIC is a unique opportunity for developers who care about projects like GPE, Opie, OpenEZX, XanaduX, and friends, since it enables us to make a phone software stack done exactly the way we like it — “bottom-up” standardization instead of doing it “top-down”. The OpenEmbedded community has quite a lot of experience when it comes to integration issues and this is why the OpenMoko distribution will be an OpenEmbedded derived Linux distribution.

GUI-framework wise, it has been an easy choice. Most of the application hacker momentum is focused around X11-based frameworks like Gtk+, Qt, wxWidgets, fltk, fox, and the like. There is absolutely no reason to not base your phone GUI framework on one of those toolkits and this is why we chose the X11/Matchbox/Gtk+ combination for this phone platform. Being a strong supporter of C++ and Qt though, I’m very interested in getting this effort to a point where it’s possible to write e.g. Qt phone applications that run inside the Gtk+ based UI framework and don’t look alien.

Consequently, given a GObject-based C framework, adding language bindings should be a straightforward task as well. FIC has understood that this will be an iterative process. We don’t expect to present a fully featured phone when we start shipping it in Q1/2007, but we rather adhere to releasing “early and often”. By working together with the open source community guys right from the start, I believe in FIC’s smartphone division establishing a solid and healthy relationship. This will hopefully include device discounts for developers as well as listening to us about future hardware platforms. If we manage to make this a successful proof-of-concept open source device, we might be in a position where our wishes about the shape of things and the type of hardware to include in future devices might reach very open ears.

Update: Some clarifications, since I’ve seen a couple of wrong facts on various sites:

  1. It got a micro-SD-slot and a SIM-card slot (of course, hey… it’s a phone)
  2. It’s got a headphone socket.
  3. The only proprietary bits are the GSM modem part (which is not even running on the application processor, but on a seperate certified TI module) and something for the assisted GPS. We have Harald ‘Mr. GPL’ Welte on board, so rest assured that everything that can be open actually _is_ open.
  4. I am ‘a’ (aka one of three) founder of OpenEmbedded, not _the_ founder.

Comments (18) left to “Congratulations Madam, it’s a phone”

  1. skome wrote:

    Bravo! Thank you! I will watch this effort closely; I have been waiting impatiently for this platform for _years_.

    In addition to all of the other merits, what you’ve done opens the door for huge improvements to user experience. As a user experience/interaction designer, I applaud you (all).

  2. jason wrote:

    Hi Mickey… congrats on this, it looks great. It’s good to see you involved in it… I’ve been an OE user off and on and know how committed you are to it and I’m sure to this new project.

    I’d absolutely love to use an “open” phone, but in the US do you think that will ever be possible with the control the current wireless carriers have?

    Anyhow, I’ll definitely be watching and looking forward to the release. If I can find a carrier that will accept this device I’ll be there and look forward to contributing.

    Good luck!


  3. mickey wrote:

    Thanks for your kind words, guys.

    Jason, the good thing is that your operator won’t have to carry it. FIC sells it directly worldwide. It’s a quad band, so it’ll work in a lot of places, and to the GSM network it will appear just as a GSM card for your Laptop — no problems with operators there. It’s a certified GSM module running in that phone.

  4. Aniello Del Sorbo wrote:

    I like the idea of owning a totally personalizable phone. What I like most is the idea of owning a phone I can, at last!, really develop on using tools I already know. I have had some ideas on using the AGPS module of my Motorola A1000, but Symbian made it not worth the implementation. Too complex. I wanna develop my ideas, I don’t want to develop Symbian.

    Great to know this phone is finally coming out!

    PS: what about those hopes about “developers discount” ? :)

  5. ADF wrote:

    been following OE and OZ on the Open embedded forums for years. Getting something to work on from the ground up, and getting a real commercial product to showcase the hard work is terrific breakthrough. Congratulations!! I’ll be buying one within the next year

  6. Tim wrote:

    If this has bluetooth, does it allow paring with devices like keyboards or just headsets for audio?

  7. Chris wrote:

    I’ve one question about the AGPS, though:
    Does it _require_ the assistance data or can it work independently, too? To my know knowledge, there’s no German mobile carrier providing the assistance data.

  8. mickey wrote:

    Tim, pairing with devices like keyboards is on our ToDo — this is the primary input device for guys (developers) like us :)

    Chris, to my knowledge, AGPS works by using the cell information to improve the accuracy of the GPS. I’m fairly sure this cell information is not a requirement.

  9. Tim wrote:

    Sweet. So Mickey, from that comment there would be no technical reason that it couldn’t happen if the drivers existed?
    If something like the bt plugin for maemo (replaced the older bt keyboard plugin) existed
    then the hardware would support it?

    link to the maemo plugin:

  10. Sean Moss-Pultz wrote:

    A-GPS works perfectly fine in pure (autonomous) mode. The assisted part just makes for extremely fast cold fixes and indoor use.

  11. Oggy wrote:

    what is the GPS chipset? is it a SirFStar III?

  12. lkcl wrote:

    hurrah! so the efforts by xanadux and and others that have been put into reverse-engineering various bits of hardware means that there is actually quite a wide range of choice of fairly recent (and still current) chipsets - with supported drivers - for phone manufacturers to choose from.

  13. Muumi Peikko wrote:

    Using x11/matchbox/gtk, sadly, is about the same mistake Nokia did with their 770. That stuff is too heavy for the device and for the programmer.

  14. Marco Herrn wrote:

    As a Java Developer, I would be interested in a JMV on the phone. Is something like that planned? I have not seen anything about this issue, so I assume there currently is no JVM available for that platform.

  15. Tim wrote:

    Since the platform is open.. I imagine there will be one eventually. If you don’t port it, someone will. Especially now that Sun’s code is going to be released..

  16. J W Purnell wrote:

    I’m definitely interested in this, but I am profoundly deaf. Will a TDD device work with this?

  17. Norman wrote:

    Great news!

    Will this device have wireless lan?

  18. Agendas electrónicas y sistemas operativos Open Source — wrote:

    [...] Michael Lauer comenta en su blog sobre OpenMoko y el FIC Neo1973. El Neo1973, fabricado por una empresa llamada FIC, es una agenda-teléfono “open source”, un sistema operativo abierto (OpenMoko) que los desarrolladores pueden adaptar y modificar a su antojo . Aquí y en este link a engadget se pueden ver algunas fotos del Neo1973. [...]

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