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Highlights from O'Reilly Open Mobile Exchange (OMX) at OSCON2008

Posted by qmahmoud on July 22, 2008 at 7:46 AM PDT

I have attended the O'Reilly Open Mobile Exchange (OMX), which is a one-day event organized for the first time as part of the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON2008). I came to OSCON primarily for OMX and I am glad I did -- it was a wonderful event full of useful information -- many thanks to the organizers and speakers. Here are some highlights with comments...

Driving Linux in the Mobile Space

According to Jim Zemlin, every person in the modern world uses Linux multiple times everyday -- it is in ATM machines, laptops, etc. But what makes Linux a superior platform for mobile? Well, Linux is not just an open source platform but one that can handle complex software tasks, and has many choices for middleware and application development, and being royalty-free is important for manufacturers that ship millions of devices per year. Licensing around a mobile Linux platform will be confusing as many components make the mobile Linux platform and people will be confused with GPL2 vs. GPL3 (DRM issues).

Symbian OS Goes Open Source

As you may have heard, Nokia has recently acquired Symbian to make the OS open source (The Symbian Foundation). Nokia was being charged $250M/year to put the platform on their devices, so it is a good move for them financially. But will open source symbian become a threat to Linux on mobile devices? Well, Linux is a well-established open source platform and if Nokia is planning on throwing 10M lines of code and hundreds of pages of documentations at the community then this project will not fly.

There is no plan on how they want to do this yet. But according to John Forsyth from Symbian there will be an interim period where Symbian OS and the UIs will be available to Foundation members and this will begin by mid 2009, and around the same time The Symbian Foundation will release the platform under the Eclipse Public License.

There are many other open source initiatives for the mobile space such as openmoko, moblin, LiMo and others. This is good for consumers, but will be a nightmare (device fragmentation) for developers.

The Mobile Web

Have you tried to access the Web from a cell phone? You may not have liked that experience because the mobile web is not ready due to the following reasons: (1) user interface (have you tried using the keyboard even on the iphone); (2) access to phone characteristics such as camera, location, accelerometer is restricted due to privacy and security issues. Sprint for example restrict access to some Java ME APIs unless you have a VeriSign certificate (you need to sign your apps); (3) performance issues (how long does it take to load a web page on a cell phone).

There are over 3B phones on the planet, but how many are being used to access the Web? According to Jason Grisby, it is usage and not units that matter. SMS has been a very successful application with 2007 revenues reaching $100B, and I believe this number is not surprising giving how young users are mainly using their phones for non-voice apps (SMS, chat).

Business Models

Stefano Maffull from Funambol talked about business models: razors and blades (the business is in selling the blades) and Apple is leading the way with their iphone and the app store. The other model will be mobile advertising and Google is expecting to lead with their Android if it will ever come out. :-)

Zembly

It is an open platform for iphone and mobile browser widgets. This initiative is sponsored by Sun Microsystems. According to Parkash Narayan, Zembly.com allows you to use your browser to collaboratively build and deploy apps for social networks. He demoed how an application can be composed in the browser and deployed (hosted on Zembly) on facebook as well as the iphone. I believe this idea has lots of potentials but I was hoping that it will generate Java ME Midlets. :-) Zembly reminded me of the HP sponsored website mscapers.com that allows you to create location-based apps and games for gps-enabled iPAQ devices.

The Browser is the new open platform (Mobile Firefox?)

Chris Blizzard from Mozilla compared today's mobile experience with that of the mainframe era whereby you have to pay someone to install something for you. He argues that with a browser, you do not have to ask for permissions to install an app on your device. He talked about Mozilla's effort in developing a mobile browser (Mobile Firefox) and they're using N810 as their testing platform, which is not a cellular device by the way.

While it is true that most people in the developing world will experience the Internet through a mobile device, I do not believe browser-based apps are the right approach for mobile devices such as cellphones because of screen size and power consumption. Benoit Schilling from Nokia Qt Software talked about the hybrid model(native and browser-based apps).

Let's not forget what cell phones were designed for

To that end the presentation by John Todd was about "voice" services through the Asterisk platform.

Overall, OMX was a great event and I look forward to attending again next year and you should too. I believe open source developers would benefit from learning about other mobile platforms (e.g. RIM's BlackBerry) so I believe it would be beneficial to include presentations about other platforms as well...even if they are not open source. Q.

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