Editor's Blog: Is Three a Crowd among Touch-Screen Phones?

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Editor's Blog: Is Three a Crowd among Touch-Screen Phones?

 

After the iPhone was announced, lots of people from bloggers to reporters to analysts had a field day talking about how un-revolutionary it was. After all, there already was a touch-screen phone coming to market soon - the LG Prada phone, nee KE850 - which was just as cool-looking as the iPhone but noticeably slimmer. There was also another contender: a phone from an open-source mobile communication "movement" going by the name of OpenMoko. This phone, OpenMoko announced, would be manufactured by Taiwanese OEM-er FIC and marketed under the mystifying name Neo1973.

 

The three phones don't really have that much in common, when you look a little closer.

 

The Neo1973 is basically a smartphone developed by and for geeks (by which I mean no disrespect). You can tell this almost immediately. It's the name. The Neo1973? Huh? Does that mean it's some new take on something that was hip way back in the 1973 - the year Nixon accepted responsibility for Watergate, there was a (different) oil crisis going on, and The Godfather won the Oscar for best picture? Yeah, I know, it's probably just some random number dreamed up at FIC, or maybe not so random. Either way, it's a silly name. But that's how you know it's for geeks: It's obvious that no one at OpenMoko put up a fuss when FIC (or whoever) christened the phone.

 

But I digress. The OpenMoko phone offers many of the same features as the iPhone and Prada phone, namely the ability to read and send email and sync contacts and calendars. But it doesn't have a camera. It doesn't seem to play music or video (although it's not totally clear from the spec sheet provided by the company). Although it does have an interesting shape - kind of an elongated oval.

 

The point of the OpenMoko phone is that it's open. If a company needs to develop some kind of specialized app that all its mobile workers can access, no problem. If a Linux prodigy just wants to create a way to text message all his friends whenever he releases new code, he can do that too.

 

The FIC Neo1973 smartphone, powered by OpenMoko, would have been super groovy back in '73, especially next to an eight-track player.

 

To me, the OpenMoko phone seems like the polar opposite of the Prada phone, which has a lot of substance, but is mostly about style. (Not to mention that the substance comes at a HUGE price - 600 euros, which is almost a grand, and which is also beside the point since you can't buy it in the U.S. yet).

 

I don't know why, but the fact that it has Prada emblazoned on its face somehow lessens the impact of the price tag. But that is NOT to say I would pay that much for it if I lived in Europe or Asia. (Well, maybe I would. I'd be a totally different person if I'd been born and raised in Paris or Tokyo, wouldn't I?) At this point, the only indication of what the Prada phone can do is a video tour created by a fellow at Italy's Cellulare IT magazine and posted on YouTube.

 

The features demonstrated in the video include showing off the buttons and ports, the way you can set the alarm "to wake you up in the morning," the way the menus are divided, the soft number pad for making calls, creating a text message (which forces you to use an alphanumeric keypad rather than a full keyboard), and how to change the graphic "themes" for the phone. Using the "fish theme," when you press something on the keyboard, a tiny orange fish swims toward your finger, which seems super cool until you stop to think, "Who cares?"

 

The LG Prada phone is big on style, and it's fairly functional too.

 

It's not really fair to compare the Cellulare IT guy's first-look video tour of the Prada phone to Steve Jobs's demo of the iPhone at his Mac Expo keynote. But I can't help it. Steve's flashy keynote was not just flash: The features he demo'd were features that actually worked when we tried them in our too-short 30-minute hands-on demo with the phone the next day. For whatever reason, I found it hard to get excited about the functionality of the Prada phone, as shown in the YouTube video. Maybe I'd feel differently if Prada was a brand I felt some allegiance to. That's where Apple has a decided leg up over both phones, all functionality aside: Its branding is stronger (at least among people who care about gorgeous, easy-to-use tech) than Prada's and its reputation for ease of use might trump the whole open-source thing.

 

The OpenMoko FIC Neo1973 will be available in March or April worldwide for $350 U.S. The iPhone will be available in the U.S. in June for $499 (4GB) or $599 (8GB) with a two-year Cingular Wireless contract. The LG Prada phone is now available in Europe; it will be out in Asia in March.

 

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Mikko Rauhala

It's understandable that the reporter missed the music playing capabilities of the Neo1973, since they're not too clearly advertised in the current pages, but it _can_ play music for you. To start with, the Neo will sport a 512 MB microSD (upgradeable) for data such as audio. (By the way, a better link now to OpenMoko is http://www.openmoko.org/ )

Video playing capabilities will probably be limited on the first edition of the phone due to lack of processing power. The community will be experimenting on this, but we'll see what we can do. FIC _are_ coming out with a more powerful version of the phone this fall, at which point it will be hitting the mass-market. This should make it easier to play decent-quality video as well.

Talking about mass-market, it should be noted that the phone, as selling in March or start of April, is targeted at developers at that point (though anyone _can_ buy it). It will function as a basic phone (and music player), but a lot of the "smart" apps are still on the way; the point of the early release is to get the free software community to write cool apps to go along with the FIC-provided ones.

And the name; Neo1973 is a reference to the mobile communications revolution of 1973, when the first cellular call was made. The Neo is poised to again revolutionize the mobile phone industry with a phone that will not be locked down or otherwise artificially limited in what it can do; a phone that will enable anyone with the skills to make it do what they want, and share the results. Many cool ideas for applications have already been thrown around on the very active community list and wiki.

Oh, me? I'm not associated with the manufacturers, I'm just exited about this opportunity, and will be getting the phone as soon as it hits the market.

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Marcel de Jong

In 1973 the first mobile phone got invented by Martin Cooper.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_mobile_phones

Openmoko is the platform which will run on the phone, and FIC is the hardware company that creates the device.

And yes, there will be a version available in March/April worldwide, but that version is meant for developers (and extreme early adopters), a more suitable phone for the mass market will be released in September 2007.
Which will most likely include a mediaplayer (it has already stereo output through small speakers at the bottom of the phone as well as a four-ring 2.5mm stereo jack port for headphones).

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redeemed

quit ur crying the iPhone is exactly what it needs to be. It will sell a ton and make millions for Apple and Cingular which is exactly what it was designed to do. Apple/Cingular doesn't care about the leet geeks they want the money.

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Paris

No feeds for these blogs? No feeds for this site?

Am I missing something?

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Ulie

As a long loyal Apple fan, I am now sour on Apple.(pun intended) The iPhone is one of the examples how Apple has missed the boat. I have a Razr Verizon cellphone. The Verizon part is important as the software for Razrs differs among providers. My gf has Cingular and the two phines act differently on what I think is the most import 21st Century feature, VOICE dialing. With handsfree laws, etc. I found this feature one that I use more than anyother. I always use voice dialing. What sets Verizon software apart from the Cingular Razr is that I do NOT have to pre-record the contacts I wish to call. The Verizon Razr has terrific voice recognition software, and repeats your command and asks if that is correct. Giving you an opportunity to correct any mistakes made by a noisy environment. I did not get the phone for this feature, but now it is the most important feature I need in a phone. I wouldn't buy a phone without this wonderful way of dialing. BTW, I am ino way affiliated with Verizon, I pay my bill like any consumer, and yes it's too high.

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Anonymous

Good point, thanks for mentioning. I will rethink switching to cingular. The iphone was the only reason I would have switched from verizon. I wonder what other drawbacks there might be from cingular.

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Leslie Ayers

This is why I wasn't a math major...but I do wonder why you think I'm not capable of fixing my own error? ;-)

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Anonymous

d

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Grand Architect

Wow I am amazed that the writer missed such an obvious spec.
Rik fix it before a misguided wintec glimpses it......Please.

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333imacman

The second to last sentence in this article states that the iPhone comes in 8 and 4 megabyte sizes. This is a wee bit off.

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