Free your phone a few words from OpenMoko

Open Moko phone

Dave forwarded a very clever email from the guys behind the OpenMoko project. I have quoted a lot from the email but left out the part in the middle about the specs of the hardware and software.

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”

Mark Weiser wrote those words almost 15 years ago in a Scientific American article titled, “The Computer for the 21st Century.” In it, he coined the term “ubiquitous computing”, and proposed a set of ground rules for devices of the 21st century. Temporally, we're here. Technologically, we're close. But everyone still seems to be talking about ubiquitous computing like a mirage on desert road: it's always the same distance away. Sometimes looking at common every day objects with a fresh perspective yields interesting
new ideas. Today we're going to propose that the foundation for ubiquitous computing is already here. All that is stopping us from going forward is change of context.

Almost everyone we know has a mobile phone. Mobile phones have become part of the fabric of everyday life. Does this mean that the mobile phone is the ubiquitous computing device we've all waited for? Currently, no. But with a subtle change we would argue, yes.

Mobile phones are closed environments created with a mobile context in mind. But this concept is limiting; a mobile phone has the potential to be a platform that can do anything that a small computer with broadband access can do. If mobile phones were based on open platforms, they would have the potential to bring computing to people in a ways traditional computers cannot. Mobile phones can become ubiquitous computers.

Ubiquitous computing, however, does not simply mean computers that can be carried to work, to the home, to the beach, and to the movies. Ubiquitous computers must know where they are, and then must be able to merge into the environment.

We put GPS functionality into the Neo1973, because when your phone simply knows its location, it can adapt its behavior in significant ways without even a hint of artificial intelligence. How can devices disappear into the background? To be honest, we have far more questions than answers here. But do we know what is needed for exploring this idea. Developers must have unrestricted access to hardware at all times. Being able to control the microphone, for example, will allow phones to sense ambient noise. A simple
program could prevent your phone from ringing while you're in a conversation.

We will always try our absolute best to give you devices that are as open as possible. Our goal is freeing end-users and businesses alike from proprietary constraints. We're about encouraging people to modify and personalize their software to support their individual needs. Building products as we do, we strive to enable people to connect and communicate in new and relevant ways, using their own languages and their own symbols.

We want your involvement in OpenMoko. Now is a great time for us to work together. You'll have our full support. We're dedicated to helping you “Free Your Phone.” And we're always looking, listening, and hungry for new things. It is our goal to be totally market driven.

To be market-driven requires a willingness to experiment. OpenMoko will provide discounted phones to people in “improbable” markets. We're interested in what people in these markets can do with our products, whether they can use them at all, or what it would have to be like for them to become customers.

We will start out with the assumption that our product may find customers in previously ignored markets; that uses no one imagined when the product was designed will be found; and that Neo1973 will be bought by customers outside our field of vision and even unknown to our sales force.

We need you to talk to us. Tell us what you want. We promise we will listen. Your feedback will help evolve our roadmap. The real power of an open phone comes not from any one of these devices; it emerges from the interaction of all the users of “freed phones.” We can create true ubiquitous computing in Weiser's terms. This will be the computer of the 21st century.

At this point, we should tell you why we chose the name “Neo1973.” “Neo” means new. Dr. Marty Cooper (the inventor of the mobile phone) made the first call ever in 1973.

We believe that an open source mobile phone can revolutionize, once again, the world of communication. This will be the New 1973.

Join us. “Free Your Phone.”

Sincerely,

The OpenMoko Team

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.