What is a Mobile Platform?
Mobile devices are the types of inseparable gadgets that we use everyday. Every one of us carries a mobile device for contacting people and accessing the information that we require. Therefore, mobile phones market has grown by a few folds for the last few years and the potential looks unlimited. Therefore, many new mobile phone vendors and carriers coming into the mobile market every now and then with the hope of catching the marker share in the rapidly developing mobile market place.
Same as for a computer, for the successful operation of a mobile phone, the phone should have an operating system. Due to the compact size and low-end power, mobile operating systems should be lightweight and less expensive in resource consumption. To address this need, various companies have come up with their own mobile operating systems, or in other words, mobile platforms, developed using various technologies.
Many early mobile platforms were quite simple and written in languages such as C or C++. These mobile platforms gave the facility for making calls, editing and reading the contact lists and some other basic features. These platforms were hardware dependent. Therefore, other mobile devices could not adopt them.
Later, the mobile industry came up with more advanced and sophisticated mobile platforms such as Symbian by Nokia, Blackberry OS by Research In Motion (RIM), iOS by Apple, and Windows CE / Mobile by Microsoft. These latter generations of mobile platforms were feature rich and user friendly.
Linux for Mobility
Linux was not a choice for mobile platforms at the beginning. At least this was the case for consumer mobile devices. Of course Linux has been used as an embedded operating system for decades now, but it was mostly for specific devices used by trained professionals.
Various companies and community groups started adopting Linux as a mobile platform from the beginning of the current decade. Although Linux was one technology branch, there were a number of Linux mobile platform initiatives taking place in parallel. There was no synchronization between these groups. As a result, the Linux platforms developed by different groups were either hardware dependent or didn’t share a common standard.
Later in the storyline, people started realizing the need for a common standard among the Linux mobile platforms. As a result, more organized effort was put in to developing an open standard for Linux mobile platforms.
As a result of collaborative efforts of developing Linux mobile platforms, now we have only a few branches of mobile platforms developed in Linux, such as Android, LiMo, and TuxMobi. Compared to other platforms, such as Windows based platforms, Linux still has much variety. This is no problem with Linux mobile platforms, rather it just inherits the ‘variety’ characteristic from its big brother, Linux.
An Open Mobile Platform
Linux mobile platform is an open platform. The source code is available for anyone use for any purpose under the license that governs the code. But this is not the case with many other proprietary mobile platforms such as iOS or Blackberry OS. For the latter operating platforms, the 3rd party developers only get the API for developing the applications for those platforms. But for Linux platforms, the entire source code available for successful development of applications and customizations to the platform itself.
On the other hand, Linux being an open platform has given Linux a boost in the mobile market. Since the community can contribute freely, there have been many enhancements made to the mobile platform by the community developers and there are many free applications available. This was further accelerated by the rapid popularity that Linux gained during past couple of years among the computer consumers.
By now, Linux mobile platforms have become a mainstream operating platforms for variety of mobile devices. Among the current Linux based platforms, some platforms are developed and maintained by mobile device manufacturing companies and other are developed and maintained by the community groups.
Android is the most popular Linux mobile platform at present. This operating platform for mobile devices is based on the Linux kernel and uses GNU software. Android Inc initially developed this operating platform and it was later acquired by Google.
By 2nd quarter of 2010, Android was able to own the highest market share in the mobile platform arena with 33% share. Blackberry and iOS came second and third respectively.
Since Android inherits Linux’s open standards, there is a large community of developers contributing to the active development of the platform. Most of these developers write software applications to be used in Android mobile devices. By now, Android has about 70,000 such applications developed and most of them are freely available for the users. Just by looking at the number of applications available, it is by far the second most popular mobile platform at the moment.
Most of the Android code has been released under Apache license by Google.
Open Handset Alliance
This is an alliance formed by 71 companies that develop mobile platforms. The focus of this alliance is to advance in open standards for mobile devices. By proceeding in this path, it is easy for adopting a common platform among all hardware devices. As an initial run, Android has been selected as a common platform that will be able to operate in many hardware in time to come.
Advantages of Linux as a Mobile Platform
There are many advantages of having Linux as a mobile platform. First of all, Linux is free. When a user buys a mobile device, he or she pays money only for the hardware and some software running in the device, but not for the operating platform. This makes Linux mobile devices more affordable compared to other mobile devices with proprietary operating platforms. Next, there are a large number of applications available for Linux platforms, as it is an open standard. Unlike for other platforms, majority of such applications come free.
Disadvantages of Linux as a Mobile Platform
Since most parts of Linux platforms and applications are developed and maintained by the community, getting support can be little tricky. As an example, if something goes wrong with your Blackberry, you can directly call up RIM or your mobile carrier and get assistance. But for Linux platforms, you may have to post your problem in an Internet forum and wait until someone comes along and help you.