FRANKFURT, GERMANY -- After launching two of the world's first Linux smart phones, China's E28 Ltd. is now offering handset manufacturers the opportunity to license its software and hardware designs based on the increasingly popular open-source operating system.
"With our technology, manufacturers can bring their own Linux-based smart phones to market within only a couple of months," said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Roger Kung, in an interview this week at the LinuxWorld conference and exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany. "We view Linux as a very powerful contender to the smart phone operating system software developed by Microsoft (Corp.) and Symbian (Ltd.)."
E28 specializes in the design and development of smart phone devices, reference designs and application software. Smart phones are becoming increasingly popular among business users seeking one device that combines the worlds of mobile phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants).
Last September, the Shanghai-based company raised eyebrows in the fledgling smart phone market with the launch of its e2800 model, which Kung claims to be "the world's first commercially available Linux smart phone." The Chinese startup beat Motorola Inc. to market after the U.S. company, which announced plans for a Linux phone in February 2003, delivered its A760 in October of that year.
E28's slight edge over Motorola in putting Linux phones in users' hands is no coincidence: Kung was president of Motorola's personal communications group in Asia before starting his own company in 2002.
The e2800 was followed in July by the e2800+, featuring a clamshell design and video capability.
Now the Chinese company has decided to license its Linux software and hardware reference design, based on both of these productions, in the hope of creating a larger market for Linux smart phones, according to Kung.
That, however, could prove a tall order. "Like Microsoft with its Smartphone software, companies pushing Linux will have the same problem getting their operating system onto the handsets of major vendors," said Neil Mawston, senior analyst with Strategy Analytics Ltd. "Symbian already has a very strong position in this market, thanks in large part to Nokia."
Nokia Corp., the world's largest mobile phone maker, is also the largest stakeholder in Symbian, a consortium of several major manufacturers including Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Siemens AG and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB.
Strategy Analytics estimates the global market share of Linux smart phones to be around 5 percent by 2009. "For the next few years at least, Linux will be a niche market -- albeit a relatively large one -- with the highest penetration expected in China and possibly Japan," Mawston said.
Earlier this year, Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. said it plans to provide money to six phone makers to help them develop advanced handsets based on both Linux and Symbian systems.
E28's platform offerings are targeted at manufacturers of all sizes, with one "big brand" vendor poised to sign an agreement, according to Kung.