How openness and Linux are unlocking innovation [Part 1]

Andrew Shikiar, Director of Global Marketing, LiMo Foundation



The term “openness” can be defined in a number of ways within the mobile industry.

  • An operating system is said to be open if it exposes its APIs to third-party developers.
  • If these third-party developers can develop services without undue reliance on device manufacturers and operators for certification, verification and signing, it can be said that the development model is open.
  • Open distribution occurs when content providers and developers can directly market and deliver applications to the consumer without requiring approval from the network operator or device manufacturer.
  • In a broad sense, “openness” also refers to the extent to which the platform, interfaces, and development language are standardized and easy to understand and use.

Perhaps most important is an open market in which third-party developers can have a free and viable opportunity to capitalize on their efforts.

Generally speaking, mobile communications were largely closed until recently. Operating systems and content were operator-specific, thereby creating “walled gardens” that restricted user experience and developer opportunity.

This business approach is not unnatural for an industry in maturation stage; however, in the mobile industry it resulted in dozens of proprietary operating systems (OS), rendering application development across different handsets and networks both tedious and costly, ultimately hindering innovation and market growth.

A poor browsing experience coupled with unexciting applications could not trigger consumers’ interests and as a result, the mobile Internet was slow to take off.

The mobile industry has since realized that in order to provide demanding customers with more compelling and differentiated next-generation mobile experiences, coalescence is required around two or three global platforms built on underlying principles of openness and collaboration, rather than proprietary development behind closed doors.

Linux is undoubtedly well placed to be the foundation for one of these global platforms. Not only highly functional and scalable, Linux also has a long, successful history in embedded systems, setting the stage for “cross-platformization” between mobile and other categories such as desktop and consumer electronics.

One of Linux’ core strengths is that it can support multiple application development platforms and graphical user interfaces, each providing a very different look and feel. This inherent flexibility allows OEMs and operators to target specific developer communities, in turn allowing those developers to micro-segment the user base so that they can provide more customized and personalised applications.

Additionally, Linux is not tied to the brand or agenda of any other major company, as is the case for Nokia’s Symbian OS and Microsoft with its Windows Mobile OS, which creates unfettered business model flexibility that can fully support a highly customisable user experience.

Mobile Linux solutions share APIs with the desktop and enterprise solutions. As a result, previously developed third-party Linux applications can be ported to the mobile environment more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Shared APIs also provide economies of scale for the developer community, as developers can write applications for both the desktop and mobile environments with only a minimal duplication of effort.

With this commonality between mobile Linux and mobile desktop platforms, there is already a vast pool of developers working on the Linux platform. From an operator and manufacturer’s perspective, this means there are enough developer resources to provide a rich, broad ecosystem of applications. For the Linux developer community, the mobile landscape is now open for business without the hindrance of a steep programming learning curve.

Last but not least, the use of Linux in the mobile environment is being supported throughout the handset value chain and in all global regions. This offers a large targetable user base for developers and makes development of Linux applications financially appealing.

In Part II of this look at how openness and Linux are unlocking innovation, I will review the keys for successful establishment of an open mobile ecosystem.

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