Thursday, August 16, 2007

What to Do with an Open Source Phone

Shayne Flint gave a presentation about the OpenMoko "Open Source" mobile phone in Canberra on Wednesday. I can't give an unbiased review as I organized the talk, but I thought it gave a good overview of the issues.

The Neo 1973 phone demonstrated shows a lot of potential as a platform for open source applications, but the units shipping now a re only for developers. The NEO is still at least six months away from being a consumer product.ANU Mobile Web ServiceShayne showed how the phone was compatible with commonly used Linux applications. He also demonstrated it displaying web pages, including ANU's new "ANU Mobile" web service.

But the question now is what should the researchers try to do with the phone? Just getting the standard phone applications to work (such as dialing a call, sending an SMS and using the calendar) will not rate as research.

Probably the least useful aspect is to see the phone as a phone. Instead it can be thought as a Linux PDA, or a low power touch screen portable wireless computer. As Shane says the significant aspect of the device is that it can run Linux applications. So I see the interesting bit as being how to adapt applications to it, rather than building new "phone" applications.

Some areas for research:
  1. Adapting web pages: For some years I have been teaching ANU students how to modify web sites so they will run on mobile phone screens as well as desktops, using the same technology as used to provide access for the disabled. This is much easier to do with smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone, due to their larger screens. Modifications to commonly used open source web content management systems. Ideally, the CMSs would generate the code for the smartphone by default and automatically, with no user intervention needed. This would require no additional software on the phones and ideally the same web pages would work on desktop computers, the OpenMoko devices and Apple iPhones. As well as CMSs, some specialist applications with web interfaces could be adapted, such as OJS for academic publishing and Moodle for education.
  2. Mobile Offline Web Applications: Web based applications which can run offline may provide a useful phone option. Toolkits such as Google Gears could be adapted to work better with the phone.
  3. Mobile Web 2.0: AJAX and similar interactive "Web 2.0" applications would be ideal for OpenMoko. Application toolkits could be modified to adapt to a mobile phone screen (as above). The server software could be modified to run on the phone (while maintaining compatibility with remote servers.
  4. Mobile Corporate Social Networking: Social networking applications could be adapted to the phone. As well as using this for social purposes it could be applied to business.
  5. Advanced vehicle systems for developing nations: One use for the phones may be in transport.

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