Linux expanding into mid-range phones

"Linux OS solutions will be far more cost-effective than incumbent solutions"

Linux is expanding its influence outside of the world of smartphones, and is poised to take a significant share of the mid-range mobile phone market as well, according to a new study from ABI Research.

The study, released this week, found that efforts to promote and standardize Linux on mobile phones are paying off, while problems relating to Linux's processor requirements are being alleviated.

As a result, by 2013 nearly one out of every five mid- or high-end mobile devices will use a Linux-based operating system, according to the report, called "Mobile Linux: Bringing License-Free Operating Systems to Smartphones and Middle-Tier Devices."

Among the pro-Linux factors cited by ABI as making a major difference are the LiMo Foundation, founded in January 2007 by Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics and Vodafone, as well as Google's Android initiative, Nokia's use of the Linux-based Maemo operating system for its tablet devices, and Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech.

Operating system vendors are able to generate revenues from a "very cost-effective" Linux base by careful choice of which licences they use and through software engineering that isolates proprietary components from open source components, said ABI vice president Stuart Carlaw.

"Linux OS solutions will be far more cost-effective than incumbent solutions, even when silicon requirements are taken into account, given that a fuller application layer will be included in the standard package and that the burden of customization falls mostly on the independent software vendor," Carlaw said in a statement.

Due to the cost factor, Linux will be central to the mobile industry's efforts to bring more features and a more media-rich environment to mid-range devices, the report predicted.

Linux will also be important in making web-based applications more important on mobile platforms.

Last August, ABI issued a report more narrowly focused on smartphones, predicting that Linux would be running on 31 percent of all smart devices by 2012. Linux was growing faster than Windows Mobile and Symbian on such devices, the firm said.

The new report has a broader scope, also taking in the mid-tier devices that typically rely on a Real Time Operating System (RTOS).

In China and Japan, Linux smartphones already have more than 30 percent market share, having grown massively since 2004.

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Matthew Broersma

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