SAN FRANCISCO – Can “China” and “India” get along? That may seem a strange question for a technology panel to address, but it was one of the more interesting points raised here at the Mobile LinuxWorld conference today.
In fact, the reference was really a metaphor for competing visions of how to create the best mobile development platform. Sy Choudhury, staff product manager for OS Technologies at Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), made the comment during a discussion of the LiMo Foundation’s platform for mobile developers versus the Open Handset Alliance spearheaded by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and other partners.
“The approaches are different with LiMo and Android, but the end result for consumers will be the same,” said Choudhury who likened Google to China and the LiMo Foundation to India.
“If you look at the growth in China it’s come with a strong, guiding hand. It took Google to kick start and guide OHA,” he said. “LiMo is more like India, it’s very democratic, which is hard to do, but you get to the same level of participation.”
Fellow panelist Eric Chu, mobile platform group marketing manager at Google, didn’t respond to Choudhury’s comparison, which runs a bit counter to the search giant’s oft-proclaimed affinity for openness.
But he did say the goal of OHA was to create “a core underlying platform” that would give handset makers and carriers the ability to differentiate their services. “Different toolkits leads to fragmentation,” said Chu.
In a sense, he conceded the guiding hand idea, noting Google and OHA wants to set the pace for innovation much as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has with the iPhone. “I have to give Apple a lot of credit for opening up the eyes of the carriers of what’s possible,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Rather than developers having to be skilled at multiple programming languages, Chu said OHA development relies on Java programming, with which most developers already have some familiarity. “We’ve already seen some great applications that rival the best,” said Chu. “LiMo and others are welcome to join and contribute to the stack so everyone can benefit.”
The jockeying for mobile leadership comes at a time of huge opportunity to tap the growing interest by both consumers and business customers in the latest mobile devices. ABI Research released a report this week that said the market for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs) is likely to be the first real example where all mobile operating systems start on the same equal footing, without the baggage of established vendor’s technology that accompanied the earlier generation of smartphones. Linux in particular is poised to take the lion’s share of the MID market, with as much as 50 million units by 2013, according to ABI.
“The flexibility, customization and very positive cost comparison to Windows Mobile looks set to ensure that Linux takes the leading role in this market,” said ABI Research vice president and research director Stuart Carlaw in a release.
IDC analyst Sean Ryan said Microsoft’s position “is not without challenges,” but its considerable resources and well-established network of developers, software and distribution will keep it a force to be reckoned with. “They are a juggernaut,” Ryan told InternetNews.com. “Microsoft is well-bankrolled with a strong ecosystem and time proves out that’s a successful model.”
There have been rumors that the first phones based on Android, Google’s mobile operating system stack, will not be released by year’s end as Google had promised. Chu simply nodded yes when asked by the panel moderator if the first devices would be released this year.
Rival LiMo has got the jump on Google in any case, with eight different vendors announcing phones this week based on Linux software.
“We’re very excited,” Morgan Gillis, executive director of the LiMo Foundation, told InternetNews.com. Alluding to a possible delay in Android phones, Gillis said the company “seems to have gotten very introspective of late. It’s very difficult to create a handset platform and I wouldn’t be surprised if they underestimated what it requires.”
Moderator and self-proclaimed “Linux Pundit” Bill Weinberg said if LiMo and OHA joined forces it would speed the needed critical mass of devices for developers to target.
“We’re an open organization, so it could happen,” said Gillis. “Philosophically, we’re committed to interoperability and getting developers involved in the mobile sector on a grand scale. We started with six companies, now we have 52. We’re set up to embrace all companies.”
Qualcomm’s Choudhury said Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) spawned a target platform that let developers create tens of thousands of applications that helped launch the so-called PC revolution.
“We won’t end up with a Wintel architecture (in mobile),” he said. “But some coalescence is important for applications to be able to interact in the cloud. We have relationships with LiMo and OHA and others to really drive standardization in wireless.”