In backing the LiMo Foundation, a two-year old global Linux consortium, Verizon Wireless is doing much more than choosing sides on the battlefield of mobile operating system development.
It’s firing a preemptive market shot at Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) in-development mobile Linux OS, Android, which has its own development effort and support from AT&T (NYSE: T).
Verizon, the second-biggest U.S. wireless carrier, is also making clear it supports an open, collaborative mobile OS environment.
“Given its size and strategy, this makes perfect sense for Verizon,” Jay Lyman, open source analyst for The 451 Group, told InternetNews.com.
The LiMo Foundation, started by Motorola, has about 40 members, including Verizon Wireless handset suppliers Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics. The consortium is focused on providing an open and globally consistent handset software platform based upon Mobile Linux.
“If things turn out as Verizon expects, this decision is going to prove significant, as this will be the OS that lets them move with the market,” he said.
As pundits have noted, mobile device design and flashy features such as touch screens will soon be kicked aside by users in favor of rich, robust mobile applications. Grabbing and keeping market share will be tied to device capabilities and productivity aspects.
Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone Group (NYSE: VOD), announced its allegiance to LiMo last week and is rumored to be eager to push Linux phones out later this year.
While Verizon Wireless executives were unreachable by press time, Verizon stated in a release that it hopes to “help LiMo unify the mobile industry around openness and Linux as the key enablers to lowering development costs.”
The LiMo allure for Verizon is a clear path to providing a solid multimedia system as well as customized features, in future mobile devices, one analyst said.
“LiMo already has devices in the market, and Verizon wants to get phones out there,” Chris Hazelton, senior analyst, mobile devices, for IDC, told InternetNews.com, noting that working with LiMo doesn’t preclude Verizon from also joining the Android’s effort.
“The concern for Linux in mobile development is the many different flavors being developed,” Hazelton said, and that could lead to further fragmentation in the marketplace.
Fragmentation bodes the biggest threat to mobile Linux development. A recent report states that while Linux-based systems could spur more innovation than the iPhone, fragmentation could negatively impact innovative development.
Linux-based systems currently account for 20 of the 30 or more mobile handsets in use, and more than 25 million Linux-based phones have shipped worldwide.
While open source systems account for about 15 percent mobile device OS market share, Symbian leads the kingdom with more than 50 percent share, while Windows Mobile hovers at about 18 percent.
Founded by Motorola (NYSE: MOT), LiMo launched in January 2007 with support from NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone and has steadily gained support from important players.
Trolltech, maker of the popular Qtopia mobile Linux platform, announced in January it was moving from another Linux OS effort, LiPS (The Linux Phone Standards), to LiMo.
This past February, Samsung, the world’s second-largest mobile phone maker, launched a new SGH-i800 phone model running on LiMo. Motorola is planning to use the LiMo platform in six new phones this year.
As Lyman explained, the LiMo effort initially didn’t stir excitement, as several mobile Linux consortium efforts have tanked in the past few years.
“I was skeptical when it was first formed as it had been tried before,” Lyman said. “But LiMo’s done a good job getting new members, and I think we’ll see more now that Verizon’s joined.”