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LiMo drives new phones from Panasonic, NEC

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The LiMo Foundation wants you to know that the rise of Google's Android has not made its mobile Linux OS thoroughly irrelevant.

Today, the Foundation announced that NEC and Panasonic have released nine new mobile phones based on the LiMo Platform, to be offered by Japan's largest wireless-services provider, NTT DoCoMo.

According to DoCoMo SVP Kiyohito Nagata, "The successful launch of the latest LiMo handsets further establishes LiMo Platform as a leading device platform within today’s rapidly evolving mobile ecosystem."

Strong words, but ones to be expected from Nagata. He chairs the LiMo Foundation.

What's more, the Foundation says that the membership of its consortium has been beefed up by the addition of haptic-feedback developer Immersion and Japan's second-largest wireless service provider, KDDI.

LiMo has been on a bit of a mini-roll recently. In June, it announced that it had solidified the specs of its R2 version of the LiMo Platform, adding support for - among other things - the BONDI widget-creation spec from the Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) group. APIs for R2 are expected to be released in the fall, and the Foundation expects - "promises" might be too strong a word - that R2-based devices will hit the market "as early as Q4 2009."

As positive as these development may be for LiMo-lovers, the truth is that LiMo Platform-based phones aren't exactly taking the mobile world by storm. Although the Foundation boasts that there are 42 LiMo handsets available today, the list is heavily weighted toward phones supported by NTT DoCoMo and includes such questionable items as the Motorola ROKR, which was dubbed by some observers as the LOSR when its first incarnation appeared a few years back.

The Foundation asserts that its democratic, open-source nature gives it a leg up over other closed mobile OS offerings such as Apple's iPhone Software, RIM's BlackBerryOS, and Microsoft's Windows Mobile. But market-leader Symbian has begun to open-source its code, and Intel handed off its open-source Moblin project to the Linux Foundation this April.

And then there's the 800-pound open-source gorilla, Google's Android. Although few Android-based devices have yet hit store shelves, few doubt that Google's market clout and dedicated developer corps are anything less than a disruptive addition to the mobile market.

Mobile devices are now defined by the apps you can run on them. Apple's closed-system iPhone now has well over 65,000 available apps. Offerings for open-source Android hover around 5,000 and are growing.

Even with the addition of BONDI support in R2, the LiMo Platform will be hard-pressed to attract enough developers to provide its phones with a critical mass of attractive apps.

LiMo may be a perfectly serviceable mobile-phone OS, but we fear that to label it a "platform" - that is, a host for a healthy application-based ecosystem - is a wee bit overstated. ®

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