Openmoko is here - hide your iPhones

I've had the same phone for some time now; a 3 1/2 year old English/Arabic Nokia 7610 that has been outstanding since the day I got it. It's also built like a tank. Except with things like my laptop and my camera - two devices I use every day that are critical to my work, and are more extensions of myself than just tools - I'm generally very clumsy. I've dropped, soaked, stepped on, crushed, and even threw (don't ask) this phone more times (and in more brutal ways) than I can imagine, yet it still works the way it did when I first got it. I've used it mostly (surprise!) to make phone calls, but at some time or another it was also being used to:

  • check email
  • play games waiting in line at the bank
  • listen to mp3s
  • serve as a flashlight
  • read newsfeeds
  • copy documents
  • act as a wireless modem for my computer
  • chat on MSN, AIM and other chat clients
  • impress girls
  • watch TV shows and movies
  • reboot my dedicated server in Oakland from the beach in Matanzas, Cuba
  • Do work over SSH on my home computer
  • ... and many more.

Despite all that, I never really had the need for a phone that does much more than, well, make phone calls. I never got into the whole 'mobile device geek' thing very much, because I don't like the idea of carrying around a bunch of redundant devices that do exactly the same thing as the next one, albeit in a shittier fashion - convergence is, in a word, bullshit. I've never been in a situation where I desperately needed access to some form of data or information and wasn't able to pull out my laptop and get to it.

"Sure", you'll say, "but what about if you're standing in line somewhere or in the back of a cab or something?"

Simple:

  1. If I pull out my laptop and start hammering at it I'll seem like a bit of a geek, but
  2. If you pull out your Jesus Phone and start poking at it, you'll look like an asshole, and
  3. my shoulders probably span twice your body, so I don't think you'll be calling me a geek anytime soon. ;)
  4. Now, though, something new is happening that's making me sit up and take notice: the first true free software platform for smartphones is nearing completion.

    This is the OpenMoko Neo1973 side-by-side with the iPhone. It's like they read my mind to design it - dark, leaning toward monochromatic, simple, efficient, and almost steampunk-esque interface. I'm looking forward to the next iteration though, dubbed the FreeRunner, with its faster processor and 3D graphics hardware.

    Unlike the prospect of low-cost laptops or a free, uber-high-quality operating system, the 'open source' nature of Openmoko isn't interesting to me because of how it can benefit developing world users (horizontal development) - most developing countries already have much more useful and successful mobile systems than we do here in Canada - but because of the promise of innovation afforded by giving developers a blank slate to work on... and what a slate it is.

    I have to admit I was slighty tempted by the iPhone for about 4 seconds, until I found out about all the things it couldn't do - push email sans Yahoo (if I'm gonna use my phone for email, I want it to be instant, blackberry-like, from my own server... and not with shitty Yahoo webmail), run 3rd-party apps without breaking every update, be unlocked (I travel overseas quite often), use it as a bluetooth (or even tethered) modem for 3G (aren't we beyond 1997?), multi-threaded SMS and MMS (wait. what? seriously? yep.), and the list goes on. On the other hand, I hear it also plays songs, and you can do that neat little zoom-in-out thingie with your greasy fingers on the screen. :p

    It bears repeating: I'm not a mobile phone guru. I don't know much about the system works. I get to Colombia to find David fumbling over his iPhone, trying to unlock it get his local SIM card to work. As Apple products are wont to do, the last Apple version 1.1.2 super-extreme-hyper-ultra-firmware update or something or other 'relocks' his iPhone as spends the next few hours or so trying to figure out how to 're-un-lock' it or something... meanwhile, I pop in my new SIM card, dial a few numbers, and voila - my 7610 is all set for use in Medellin. If I lost you at 'Apple firmware 1.1.2', don't dare look up 'plist editor' - you'll lose your lunch.

    The story has a happy ending, though - David eventually went out and bought a brand new phone just to use here. Ahh, the joys of being a rich American hipster... kidding dude :p . Mostly. The good news is that now we have a pretty $850 mp3 player hooked up to the stereo... actually, I don't know if I'd call anything that seems to exclusively play terrible 'easy-listening' jazz and elevator musak an 'mp3 player', but hey...

    So much for "Macs just work".

    The new Openmoko phone, though, might be the first device that convinces me to take the dive into the mobile device pool. With motion sensors, Wi-Fi, 3D graphics, I'm just itching to see what the open source community is going to make possible on this thing. I'm gonna miss my customized old little Nokia 7610, with its quirks and lack of stereo and funky keypad.

    It's due to be released later this year.

Comments

Friday, January 4th, 2008
mir's picture

Okay a few points:

1/ When did a phone ever impress a girl? Your phone impressed me for about a minute before I said "You can read Arabic?" and you replied "What? No, and it took me a fuckin' long time to figure out those keys."

2/ Your shoulders however, do impress me every time I see them.

3/ *But* you're still a geek because you just devoted a long pithy post to Open Source mobile technology and you said plist, no shoulders can save you there buddy.

Okay now on to the technology:

FLOSS interfaces are ugly. Mac is beautiful, it may not work so good, but man is it pretty. The OpenMoco thing to me is like Linux - incomprehensible. Oh look, a box with bullet point, a calendar, that same box with a phone leaning on it, a clock!, a box with a snakes and ladders piece on it, a calendar and a clock together! Magic balls! That's how I read the OpenMoko interface.

The iphone interface is easier to understand, (except for the flower next to the roadsign icon uh duh?) so it still wins. As far as swappability is concerned Mac has always lived in it's own magic forest with elves and dwarves and Imovie filters, don't slag them they're like unicorns.

Now a question: Where is the dividing line in the taxonomic referents wireless and mobile? Who decided to use two terms to describe what is quickly becoming one property, and when will one collapse into the other. Or if they can't collapse what is the difference as of now.

We miss you, come home soon!

stevenmansour
Sunday, January 6th, 2008
stevenmansour's picture

1/ When did a phone ever impress a girl?

You kidding? The first thing I do when I meet a girl is show her pictures of my collection of rotary phones.

3/ *But* you're still a geek because you just devoted a long pithy post to Open Source mobile technology and you said plist, no shoulders can save you there buddy.

No, I wrote a short post about a cool phone that's coming out soon and why I'm interested in it. Oh, and 'plist' is something that Mac nerds try to figure how to edit in order to get their pre-broken hardware to a usable state... just FYI.

FLOSS interfaces are ugly. Mac is beautiful, it may not work so good, but man is it pretty. The OpenMoco thing to me is like Linux - incomprehensible.

That's a riot - I remember *someone* seeing my desktop and saying 'Wow! That's Linux? I guess I can't call it ugly anymore.' Everyone who sees my comp's desktop (Ubuntu Gutsy with Compiz Fusion and a bunch of goodies) first thinks it's a new Mac, then, when they find out it's not, say 'Wow, well this is even nicer'.

Flamewars aside, if you think something is 'incomprehensible' after seeing a tiny screenshot of it and relegating it to the "everything-opensource-is-garbage-and-ugly" part of your brain, then there's nothing anyone can do to convince you otherwise. Besides, since it's Linux, I'm quite certain that people will have the choice between several different interface, or even make their own - just like Linux on the desktop. I know what I like, and it's definitely not what some lame Apple engineer thinks I should like. I don't need to be told what's pretty and what's not.

Now a question: Where is the dividing line in the taxonomic referents wireless and mobile?

I have no idea what you just said. I'd imagine my answer to be something along the lines of "Maybe, but only on Tuesdays, and especially when it's a full moon."

Sunday, January 6th, 2008
mir's picture

Ow, jerk.

The problem is no-one knows how to change their Linux to look how they want it to, unless they are some sort of precocious whiz kid who set up their first wireless network using a pipe-cleaner and some elbow grease back in '01.

Oh wait, that's you isn't it?

Last time I had Linux (Ubuntu) on my computer, I tried to install Skype but I had to read a megillah of instructions that involved acronyms and 'patches'. I don't even patch jeans! In other words, a big fuck no to patching my computer too.

Normal people (like me) enjoy Macs because we don't have to work too hard to get the user experience we want. Oh dear, did I just make it sound like you are not normal, my mistake.

Just for the record I have no intention of ever touching a plist either. Inside of the computer is for the insiders, I am content to stay outside the box, and trust the engineers to know what's best for me (Okay now I am just trying to piss you off - it's true).

"Maybe, but only on Tuesdays, and especially when it's a full moon."

I just want to know what is the difference between 'wireless' and 'mobile' when people are talking about wifi enabled technologies these days, the two words basically mean the same thing right?

I can't believe how much you just slammed me, this is war. Meanie.

stevenmansour
Tuesday, January 8th, 2008
stevenmansour's picture

Ow, jerk.

Hey - if you can't eat the donut, get outta the kitcken!

The problem is no-one knows how to change their Linux to look how they want it to [...]

Desktop settings -> Theme. :)

On Mac, to change it to the way you want it to look, you have to... oh, wait, that's right. You can't. You just have to accept what some overpaid Apple engineer decided was the right way to do things. That doesn't bother Mac fanboys/girls of course, because in lieu of 'innovation' and 'ingenuity' Apple has this glowing golden aura around it that blinds McLovers from all the ways OSX forces you to do / not do things, and brainwashes them into believing that it is 'the way'. So they sit there all starry-eyed at their round corners and fruitty dock, convinced that 'this is as good as it gets'. Hate to break it to you, but it isn't.

[...]Last time I had Linux (Ubuntu) on my computer, I tried to install Skype but I had to read a megillah of instructions that involved acronyms and 'patches'. I don't even patch jeans! In other words, a big fuck no to patching my computer too.

Patches? Huh? What on Earth are you going on about?

Ummm... Applications -> Add / Remove -> Search for Skype -> Double-click -> Apply. Done.

Or, if you prefer the much quicker but slightly geekier way... Alt-F2 -> 'sudo apt-get install skype'. Done.

If I had a Mac, it would be more like... Open Browser -> go to www.skype.com -> go to download page -> click download -> wait for it to download -> remember where you downloaded it -> open a finder window -> drag the skype icon to the applications link...

No thank you - Mac users have all the time in the world to search for applications, hack their devices to get them to work as if they weren't shipped broken, write on each other's Facebook walls, comment on Flickr photos, and watch cute puppy Youtube flicks. Me? I've got work to do, and I don't have time to worry about wrangling my computer into what it's supposed to work like.

Normal people (like me) enjoy Macs because we don't have to work too hard to get the user experience we want. Oh dear, did I just make it sound like you are not normal, my mistake.

See above - it's the user experience you're told you want, and therefore believe you want.

Just for the record I have no intention of ever touching a plist either. Inside of the computer is for the insiders, I am content to stay outside the box, and trust the engineers to know what's best for me (Okay now I am just trying to piss you off - it's true).

Hey that's fine... lots of people love being told what's best for them too. :p

I just want to know what is the difference between 'wireless' and 'mobile' when people are talking about wifi enabled technologies these days, the two words basically mean the same thing right?

I don't know - but 'wireless' and 'mobile' in this case have nothing to do with WiFi, they're referring to blanket terms that cover any device that is 'wireless' and 'mobile'. For example, I went jogging today - I was 'mobile', but I'm not sure if I was 'wireless' as well. :p

I can't believe how much you just slammed me, this is war. Meanie.

Bring it on. I've got an army of sloths just itching for some action.