The recent flurry of activity involving Android and the LiMo Foundation at the 2008 World Mobile Congress represents the increasing level of relevance within and influence on the open source mobile platform space for both efforts. The highly anticipated Android platform and the less hyped but equally apropos LiMo platform have come to represent the intersection of the open source and mobile worlds that is a big part of the marriage of Internet and mobile devices. Open source continues to shape the dynamics of an intersection which has been highlighted by the battle between giants Microsoft and Nokia. The latter of which holds a close to 40% share of the cellphone market and an operating system (majority-owned), Symbian with a 70% clip of that market. The less than 10% of the market for mobile operating systems held by Microsoft pales in comparison to Windows on the desktop that's used on more than 90 percent of PCs. A fragmented Linux takes up 13 percent on the mobile front.
On the open source/Linux front, stated commitments to the Android platform, from parties like Verizon and LG, have followed a ballyhooed inception to the world and emboldened speculation that Google has more than a passing eye on the mobile advertisement space. The LiMo Foundation, a consortium of 32 companies, also made noise yesterday by showing off 18 handsets powered by its platform following chip makers Texas Instruments and Qualcomm participating in demos for handset prototypes on Monday. Of the aforementioned 18, 15 are commercial while two are reference designs and one is a prototype. The companies involved with LiMo weren't fully comfortable with the ownership structure of the Nokia Series 60 and/or Windows mobile platform(s). The fact that LiMo produces real code and gives companies the opportunity to get involved has served as a key selling point.
Despite its status as a relative newcomer, Android has demonstrated that it intends to be more than Google branded vaporware. Texas Instruments official Ramesh Iyer demonstrated a prototype with Android running atop its flagship, OMAP3430 multimedia applications processor. The claim was that IT was able to p8ut Android on top if its processor in less than a week. Qualcomm validated Android's associated ease of application development by showing off a game developed by engineers in a couple of hours. The hope is that Android will spark a wave of mobile applications from the development community and lead to the next generation of smartphone that combines Web-enabled applications with standard voice features by freeing the power of processors. All by empowering developers to customize applications rapidly.
Thus far, Google has positioned Android as a completed operating system. Whereas the LiMo foundation has been active incorporating components from its member companies in an effort to provide a platform made up of existing, proven components. In this way LiMo is sharing the costs and risks involved with creating a cost-effective platform for all involved parties. Initially both efforts will have to sink or swim in an already fragmented market where primacy depends on device penetration (getting onto a majority of devices)...at the very same conference, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin called for consolidation in the number of operating systems available.
Meaning while there is definitely room for the Linux category as a whole, Android and the LiMo platform may struggle to exist side-by-side over the long-term, especially since the initiatives overlap in many ways (see: the number of companies participating in both, including LG Electronics, Motorola and Samsung). As a result, the yet-to-be crowned early leader will be able to push the other effort towards the margins of relevance more quickly than is otherwise the norm. A quick swing in momentum for either side might tip the tides of consolidation for the Linux market in that direction. Therefore, it's critical that both retain as much progress and traction out of the gate as possible.