Until recently, mobile communications was largely closed. Operating systems and content were operator-specific, creating “walled gardens” that ultimately stifled innovation. It was an understandable stage in mobile’s evolution – a common stage, in fact, in the natural maturation of many sectors. Closed development efforts allow for rapid adjustments in function and strategy.
Gillis: Linux is
Of course, speed without accuracy gets you only to the wrong place more rapidly. Open development invites wider input on real-world market requirements from a broader set of participants. Today, consequently, openness is one of the key, undeniable forces at the heart of the most important developments in mobile.
Another is Linux. After years of debilitating fragmentation among disparate but largely redundant implementations of middleware technologies that should be common across handsets and models, there is now clear evidence that the mobile industry is unifying around Linux.
Openness and Linux are unlocking innovation, to the benefit of consumers everywhere and the expanding mobile industry ecosystem. As a result, we are witnessing some key emerging media, service and technology trends in the Mobile 2.0 age that will lead to new mobile experiences that will provide widespread user value.
ENTHUSIASM FOR OPEN DEVELOPMENT
Apple has recast its iPhone as an open device. Verizon Mobile is opening its network and handsets. Yahoo! has opened its Mobile Developer Platform offering so that third-party widgets can be instantly published across the device ecosystem. And in just one year, LiMo Foundation – founded on the principle of openness – has attracted broad engagement from across the mobile industry and announced the first globally competitive, Linux-based software platform for mobile handsets, as well as the first wave of LiMo-powered handsets.
It is clear that handset makers, application developers, network operators and other mobile technology providers have determined that open, community development is far more beneficial to everyone than the old ways. Creating proprietary platforms entails too much duplication of effort; commercially licensing technology from “for-profit” suppliers (who also may be competitors) can be very costly. Less cumbersome and more cost-effective open development is sparking the innovation that had been hindered in closed, proprietary efforts.
UNIFICATION ON MOBILE LINUX
Another huge factor in unlocking mobile innovation is industry unification on Linux as the underlying foundation for the technologies and services that will drive new consumer experiences. This is evidenced not just in the work of LiMo Foundation. Google’s recent entry into the mobile industry – with the launch of its Open Handset Alliance – also has validated Mobile Linux’s integral role.
For a variety of reasons, mobile and Linux make an ideal marriage. Linux is highly functional and scalable. It has a long, successful history in embedded systems and mobile phones, and it offers an ability to “cross-platformize” among mobile and other categories such as desktop and consumer electronics – an especially valuable quality in this dawning era of convergence and collapsing business models.
Perhaps Linux’s most important characteristic from the standpoint of mobile innovation, however, is something the technology doesn’t have: baggage. No single entity “owns” Linux. Unlike proprietary offerings, there are no business-model conflicts obstructing the whole mobile industry from unifying around Linux.
INNOVATING THE CONSUMER EXPERIENCE
The innovation that will be fueled jointly by industry enthusiasm for open development and industry unification on Mobile Linux cannot be precisely defined; if it could be, this would not be true innovation. But certainly there are some notable, intriguing trends that have grown increasingly evident in mobile in the last 12 months.
At February’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, for example, the conspicuous presence of the entertainment industry sent the clear message that mobile and entertainment have a big future together. There were forecasts of made-for-mobile films and made-by-mobile pop stars.
Social networking, meanwhile, is one of the staple services of the desktop Internet that are being tailored for the unique possibilities offered by the mobile Internet experience (search, live chat, location-based services and video streaming are others).
Obviously, convergence is in full flow. The ways that entertainment, social media and other forces are going to integrate with mobile is one of the most wide-open frontiers for our industry. Third-party developers are under terrific competitive pressure to roll out the new, converged services that will bring about next-generation mobile consumer experiences that exploit convergence; open development and Mobile Linux unification are driving faster, more cost-efficient introduction of these services. Users will enjoy greater choice in terms of the innovative software, the applications and the services that are available for their handsets. The open, next-generation mobile device will serve as a very personal computer – a user’s primary source of communication and entertainment.
With access to open, underlying, Linux-based operating systems within a highly cost-efficient, collaborative development model, the mobile development community is being unshackled. Developers are now able to assign a greater ratio of their research-and-development budgets to designing and delivering the next-generation mobile experience, and this has the mobile industry poised for a stage of unprecedented innovation. The emerging, next-generation mobile handset will power enhanced consumer and enterprise user experiences, irrespective of their origin, with network-independent services.
Mobile is again undertaking a giant growth spurt. The industry is now maturing rapidly beyond its initial stage in which the ability to merely access the Internet on a mobile phone (even under a provider’s strict terms) was welcomed as a novel concept. Today, open development and Mobile Linux unification are fueling the monetization of the mobile Internet by accelerating the rollout of next-generation applications and services. And a new mobile consumer experience – richer, personalized, more productive and enjoyable – is taking form.
Gillis is executive director of LiMo Foundation, an industry consortium dedicated to creating an open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices.