When the window of opportunity shuts - Mobile World Live

When the window of opportunity shuts

28 MAR 2011

Last week, the LiMo Foundation announced more details of release 4 of its LiMo Platform. It unveiled the update at Mobile World Congress during February 2011, stating that this “represents a timely milestone in the advancement of a uniquely open and independent device platform that is completely free of inherent brand and business model conflicts.”

A swift search of the internet reveals the lack of interest that these two announcements generated. Compared to the coverage even incremental updates to iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 and even Symbian OS generate, it is clear that the relevance of the LiMo Foundation has waned.

It was not always so: by early 2010, more than 50 devices had been released powered by the technology, and LiMo Platform was being used in Vodafone’s flagship Vodafone 360 smartphones, intended to enable the operator to offer an integrated handset-and-services proposition to rival products such as Apple’s iPhone and RIM’s BlackBerry (with Android still to make serious inroads, but certainly presenting a nascent threat).

What has happened since is well documented: the handsets offered by Vodafone, which were manufactured by Samsung, had a short and inglorious life. This left only NEC and Panasonic as active LiMo Platform device makers, delivering devices to NTT DoCoMo in Japan (according to the Foundation, these companies shipped 15 different terminals using the platform last year). Now, even this looks threatened, as DoCoMo has increased its focus on its smartphone portfolio – which is dominated by Android devices.  What had, at one time, looked like a mainstream proposition has become niche, at best.

Interestingly, many of the arguments of Morgan Gillis, Executive Director of the LiMo Foundation, make some sense. The positioning of LiMo Platform as open and independent certainly contrasts with the vested interests of Apple and its control of the iOS ecosystem and Google’s steerage of Android – with RIM also profiting from the provision of BlackBerry services.

As has already been widely reported, a group of tier-one operators is believed to have held talks to discuss the growing presence of Apple and Google in the mobile space, and Nokia even couched its alliance with Microsoft as offering an alternative to the dominance of these companies – as if an alliance of the number one handset manufacturer and an IT behemoth is the lesser of the evils. In this light, LiMo Platform looks like an appealing proposition, with operators being heavily involved in the ecosystem.

Perhaps the parallels are closer with Symbian OS, especially under the guidance of the Symbian Foundation. While the idea of a platform created by an alliance of interested parties under an open-source regime is appealing on many levels, in the mobile space this approach has clearly failed to deliver. In contrast, Apple and Google have changed the way that the mobile device industry functions and, whether good or bad, have won the market share which validates their approach.

Last year, it was reported that LiMo Foundation had promised devices would be sold by three operators other than DoCoMo and Vodafone by the end of 2010. This did not happen. In addition, no devices based on the R3 incarnation were brought to market.  With release 4, it said that devices “are expected to be brought to market during the second half of 2011 by operators across the globe.”

What is clear, however, is that currently there is little evidence to suggest that the window of opportunity for LiMo Platform has not already closed.

Steve Costello

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members


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