The world's first open source mobile phone will be available this September priced at $350, its developers have confirmed. The FIC Neo1973's final printed circuit board design is complete, said OpenMoko staff at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan, today.
The touch screen 2.5g phone offers WiFi and GPS. CPU and memory are both being improved or expanded from earlier specifications, said William Lai of OpenMoko's community development department. “Early users and the development community have asked us for more power”, he explained.
OpenMoko is a subsidiary of electronics manufacturer, First International Computer (FIC), which itself is a division of the giant Formosa Plastics Group.
Touch screen needs work
Like Apple's iPhone, the Neo1973 is controlled entirely by its touch screen. However, given the importance of the touch interface, this is a key area still in need of improvement prior to launch, OpenMoko staff admitted.
In a brief hands on test at Computex, the touch screen proved difficult to use, responding consistently only when tapped or scaped with a fingernail, and often ignoring input with the wider area of the fingertip. The device can also be operated more easily with a supplied stylus, staff said, but the phone does not have a clip or docking bay to hold this.
More open phones on the way
The OpenMoko platform will eventually run on a wide range of phones, and later models are already in development, staff said.
OpenMoko is talking to several mobile carriers in Europe and elsewhere who are interested in offering the phone to their customers, Lai said. The company expects to announce partnerships later this year. The open source platform can help carriers offer a wider range of software without heavy development costs, he said.
The phone is based on an almost totally open software platform, with full hardware access. Only the inner workings of the GSM and GPRS module are off-limits, for intellectual property protection reasons, and to avoid radio frequency regulatory problems or interference with mobile carriers' operations.
Despite the openness of the design, FIC and OpenMoko are not concerned about imitators cloning the hardware and selling a cheaper version with the same open source software. “We don't see that happening any time soon, because phone design is really hard,” Lai said, “it's not like cloning a PC”.