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Neo1973: long-distance contender to Apple and Google?

Inside the mobile matrix, part 1

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If you're a developer working with mobile devices few decisions will be more critical than the platform you choose to focus on. With the correct choice, your skills and creativity may pay off both financially and personally when thousands of users enjoy something that you brought into the world.

This being the month of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada and Macworld in San Francisco, California, I’ve looked at three devices/development platforms that have tweaked developers’ interest: OpenMoko's Neo1973, Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone. I will look at the strengths and weaknesses of each, to help developers decide which platform to adopt.

My first overview focuses on the Neo1973, the oldest of this trio enjoying renewed attention thanks to the hubbub surrounding Android and the iPhone.

First, some context. In order to make comparisons among these fairly diverse platforms, two of which are mainly device specific with the third being a more generalized operating system said to work across multiple devices, we needed some common criteria.

This process was complicated by the fact that virtually all of the information about the iPhone SDK and Android are based upon presentations, demos, documents and hearsay. With no hands on development time with the forthcoming iPhone SDK and with the first Android-powered phone release not expected until the second half of 2008 you might wonder how I can possibly do a review, let alone make recommendations.

The key is the questions asked. Instead of focusing on the nuances of each environment, I thought it more valuable to look at the factors that determine what a programmer can do with each device and how likely it is that the finished code will become sufficiently popular to have made your development efforts worthwhile.

Here, then, I shall examine the following:

  • How big is the installed user base for the device or platform
  • Does the platform limit you to a single device or can the code be easily ported to other devices
  • What are the license terms and do they offer sufficient flexibility to be creative while allowing you to retain a reasonable interest in the work you've done
  • How adventurous is the community that uses the platform or device
  • How confident are we that this device or platform will be around for at least a few years

Is Neo the one?

The Neo1973 is named after the year when the first mobile call was made, and is designed to run OpenMoko.

Some people have compared the Neo1973/OpenMoko project with Nokia's Maemo/internet tablet initiative. Big differences exist, however. Starting with the fact that the Nokia device is a tablet only (it does not have GSM or CDMA capability), and extending right to the actual creation of the devices themselves. According to Nokia's vice president of convergence products multimedia Ari Virtanen "the N810 as well as its predecessors, the N800 and the 770 Internet Tablet are the only devices ever developed to be internet native from the ground up."

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