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oFono – The future of Maemo and a few predictions

Written by Jamie Bennett on May 17th, 2009 at 9:20 pm in Uncategorized

A few days ago Intel and Nokia announced that they are collaborating on an initiative to develop what seems to be an open source telephony platform named oFono. This raises a lot of questions, Why are Nokia helping to develop another open platform when they have Maemo and the newly opened Symbian OS to contend with? Why are Intel interested in anything in the open source world outside of Moblin and their netbook strategy? And in the face of the ever expanding world of Android, what does this mean for Maemo?

Well, the future isn’t exactly clear but it could mean a boost for Maemo. Exactly why is clouded in mystery somewhat.

oFono.org

Lets be clear, oFono isn’t a new operating system, it is an initiative to develop telephony solutions in an open manner. From the oFono.org about page:

oFono.org is a place to bring developers together around designing an infrastructure for building mobile telephony (GSM/UMTS) applications. oFono.org is licensed under GPLv2, and it includes a high-level D-Bus API for use by telephony applications of any license. oFono.org also includes a low-level plug-in API for integrating with open source as well as third party telephony stacks, cellular modems and storage back-ends. The plug-in API functionality is modeled on public standards, in particular 3GPP TS 27.007 “AT command set for User Equipment (UE).”

OK, with that out of the way, what does this mean for Nokia, Intel and Maemo?

Commonality

Traditionally Maemo has had nothing to do with telephony outside of implementing ‘everything but the phone’. The internet tablets have GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth, in fact one of the most common questions I get asked when I’m in public with the Internet tablet is, “what kind of phone is that?”. But with the new collaboration between Intel and Nokia there is a consensus that maybe, just maybe, the drive between the two companies could produce something special.

But the something special part is what is currently under debate. Intel are primarily a chip designer and producer. Although they have many fingers in many pies they signaled their intent by backing Moblin, a project, from their own website, described as an initiate to produce an operating system for “netbooks, MIDs, and automotive”. What does this have to do with Nokia’s Symbian phone software or their Internet tablet software? Exactly nothing. So where do the two companies potentially overlap?

Well, with a little give and take they could be shoe-horned into one other. Nokia’s internet tablet could be considered too small for a netbook but with a couple of inches screen real-estate and a better keyboard could be considered a reasonable netbook? Moblin’s OS on stripped down internet table hardware in the dashboard of you next car purchase? The heavy-weight status of Intel behind Nokia’s struggling platform ensuring a rosier future for both? Lots of questions without a lot of answers at the moment.

A Bright Future?

In the undertones of the Nokia community they see the potential. A car based solution called Canola is the perfect solution for many a car journey. It’s just waiting to be picked up by the likes of Ford or Audi. Nokia’s strides with Maemo 5 and an OpenGL ES/Clutter based interface would be wonderful on a netbook or MID. Nokia’s experience with the ever present Symbian OS gives them a huge share of the market already familiar with what they have to offer. So what is the answer and is there such an answer in existence yet?

Predictions

Here are a few bold statements. If they are wrong then its a case of 2 + 2 = 5, if they are right, and I suspect there is a lot of truth underlining this here, then a clever connection of the dots has already spelled it out. So what will happen to Nokia and Intel’s foray into the telephany, MID, automotive, internet tablet, and netbook arenas?
Crystal Ball Predictions
Here are LinuxUK’s predictions.

1) Nokia release Maemo 5 on OMAP 3 hardware. Slide out keyboard and slightly smaller but clearer screen. Clutter based interface is an instant success as Nokia demonstrate the power of 3D effects on a small but very functional device. HSPA interface is first treated with contempt as people are tied into a contract with no phone services. Nokia brag about Skype and hope the concerns go away. Camera is amazing BTW.

2) Nokia soon after announce Symbian and Maemo live happily together. Based off of their efforts with QT, they bring cross-platform to a thorny beginning with apps designed for both targets.

3) Nokia announce a partnership with a major car manufacturer to produce in-car entertainment devices using Intel based chips. Appeasing both Moblin and Maemo camps, announces that its an open platform for both parties. Open source car tech, wow!

4) Meanwhile, Intel announces a MID based on its own hardware but utilizing hildon and various parts of Maemo software. oFono telephony software slips into the MID form factor.

5) Nokia announce, in partnership with Intel, they are looking at bringing telephony to their Maemo platform. Early adopters of the Maemo 5 based hardware rejoice. They may get a phone after-all.

6) Telephony stack is ported to Maemo 5 hardware, Intel and Nokia bring out a sexy phone, much sexier than the internet tablets based on Maemo, for the masses. Internet tablet users convince themselves they bought their tablet because it didn’t have a phone but quietly admire the new device.

7) Android, looks on in disgust, quietly scared.

8) …?

Reality

I believe the the major clout of Android and Google means that they believe they will win the phone OS war. In their targets are iPhone, Blackberry and the act of converting the dumb-phone Nokia users into smart phone users. For Nokia’s sake, I hope they are wrong. I truely hope Nokia and Intel can combine to produce a platform to rival Android. Yes, internet tablets are cool, but they don’t sell units. Shifting units is what is going to win this war. Lets not forget <a href="http://www.limofoundation.org/"LiMo. An effort to bring an open source operating system to phone users. I would bet my bottom pound that most LiMo users have never hear of, let alone read the GPL.

There is a fear that Nokia will die in the age of the smart phone although Nokia has been producing smart phones for longer than any competitor. I hope for Nokia’s sake that their foray into open source, namely Maemo, combines with Intel to bring them out the other side firmly holding an open source phone/tablet to rival Apples and Google’s emerging dominance.

Update: It seems that Intel is indeed looking at the mobile space as a way of expanding its business model. A post on UMPC portal has good commentary on Intels road map which has just been leaked (Intel even use pictures of Nokia’s phones in the material).

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