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4/7/2009
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OpenMoko Ending Open Source Smartphone

OpenMoko's open source FreeRunner smartphone won't have successors because of the slumping economy and increased competition in the mobile space.


OpenMoko's Neo FreeRunner


(click for larger image)

OpenMoko said it will not be making successors to its open source Neo FreeRunner smartphone.

Speaking at a conference in Switzerland, OpenMoko CEO Sean Moss-Pultz said the company will discontinue development on the next iteration of its Linux-based smartphone, as the FreeRunner only sold about 10,000 units. The company will focus on a supporting the existing smartphone, as well as a new product that's not a mobile phone, Moss-Pultz said.

The move is a disappointment for the open source community because the FreeRunner was the first mass-market smartphone that was modifiable down to its core features. The handset shipped with basic software to make calls, manage contacts, and send text messages, but the end user was free to load any software on it, including multiple Linux stacks.

The company encouraged the developer community to write and install their own applications. The open nature didn't just apply to the software, as the company released the full CAD design files to enable users to create unique phone casings.

With a 2.8-inch touch screen, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, a microSD slot, accelerometer, and a fast processor, the FreeRunner does match some of the features of many high-end smartphones. But OpenMoko's handset lacks 3G connectivity because of the need for proprietary drivers, and this may make the smartphone less attractive than rivals like Apple's iPhone 3G, the BlackBerry Storm, and the T-Mobile G1.

The number of FreeRunner smartphones sold shows there is an audience for this type of product, but it doesn't appear to be large enough to be sustainable, particularly as the mobile industry is slumping. Additionally, the industry is seeing some moves toward openness as Google's Android is based on Linux, and the Symbian operating system soon will be open source software.


Nokia's decision to create the Symbian Foundation and to open up the OS should have major ramifications throughout the smartphone market. InformationWeek evaluated the impact of this move, and the report can be downloaded here (registration required).

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