Open Source Strikes Again

Apple's iPhone announcement on Tuesday managed to capture most of the early buzz at CES, but no one was happier with the announcement than OpenMoko's Sean Moss-Pultz, the brainchild behind the Neo1973—the world's first open-source consumer mobile phone. The way Moss-Pultz sees it, the iPhone will do two things: get Americans to expect more from their mobile phones, and get them used to paying for them on their own, rather than getting them free through rebates from carriers—two ideas that the rest of the world have already adopted and which Moss-Pultz sees as key to the life of his brainchild in the U.S. market.

Making its official U.S. debut here at CES, the Neo1973 (built by FIC, a prominent Taiwanese electronics manufacturer) is a feature-rich smartphone with a touch-screen interface, a 266 MHz processor and a built-in GPS module, all running on an entirely open platform called OpenMoko. "Open" meaning its source code is available to anyone, clearing the way for the world's millions of Linux programmers to create applications for the phone—applications which will be made freely available to non-geeks via an intuitive application manager. It's similar to the way the Nokia 770, featured in our November issue, managed to leverage a community of programmers to ensure exciting feature additions long after most similarly aged devices had become obsolete.

So not only will Neo1973 users have their choice of GSM carriers, they will also be able to run exactly the types of applications they want. Only need Internet-based apps like a web browser, RSS reader and email? No problem. Rather turn your phone into a portable media machine, complete with an eBook reader and video player? Just grab the apps you need, all for free. It's an exciting concept for the mobile market, one which has historically valued locked-down control over an easy user experience. Look for that to start changing when the Neo1973 becomes available next month. —John Mahoney