Linux makes phone debut

The device, which combines PDA and voice functions with email and internet access, will be just one of many Linux phones in the future, Motorola said.

The Motorola A760, announced in February, is currently available only in the Asia-Pacific region, but is expected to ship in Europe early in 2004. It features a colour screen, built-in digital camera and Bluetooth capability, in a handset compatible with GSM and GPRS networks. It also supports Java, allowing users to download Java applications to their phones.

“This handset is special because it features one of the most open and flexible software platforms,” said Rob Shaddock, vice president and general manager of GSM/TDMA products in Motorola’s personal communications division. “By supporting open-source Linux and using Java technology, Motorola has an open and flexible environment to drive the development of compelling applications.”

The A760 runs MontaVista’s Linux Consumer Electronics Edition, which the software firm announced last year and which is designed for phones and other embedded devices. Motorola said the A760 demonstrates the company’s commitment to making the Linux operating system a pillar of its handset strategy.

Motorola’s choice of Linux shows it is keen to pursue alternatives to the Symbian operating system favoured by other handset manufacturers. Motorola remains one of the largest investors in the Symbian consortium, with a 20 percent share. Other major handset makers, including Nokia, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and Samsung, have introduced or announced models based on the Symbian platform.

“We’re part of the [Symbian] consortium, but it has not played a big part in our portfolio,” said Scott Durschlag, corporate vice president for strategy and business development for Motorola’s personal communications. This is because Motorola sees Java applications as being more important in the mobile market, he added. “We don’t think the operating system even matters to some extent,” he said. “What matters is what’s on top of it.”

Linux has so far failed to make much of an impact in the mobile client market. A handful of handheld PDAs have used the open-source operating system, most notably Sharp’s Zaurus SL-5500, but the majority of buyers have opted for Pocket PC or Palm models. However, phone buyers may be less concerned about the underlying platform as long as the handset has all the functions they require.

Pricing for the Motorola A760 handset has yet to be announced.