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Home » » The Android vs. LiMo Conflict: What’s the difference?

The Android vs. LiMo Conflict: What’s the difference?

Although not discussed often, LiMo (Linux Mobile Foundation) is a formidable competitor for the Android platform. So isn’t LiMo, a consortium of partnered companies, inherently a competitor of the Open Handset Alliance?

Core companies that support Android’s cause are members of the Open Handset Alliance, defined as, “a group of mobile and technology leaders who share this vision for changing the mobile experience for consumers.” They claim that their, “first joint project as a new Alliance is Android.”

So although Android is technically owned by Google, the OHA website makes it clear that Android is a product of this “group effort”. Furthermore, the OHA site identifies that the goal of Android is: “to be the first open, complete, and free platform created specifically for mobile devices.”

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Hmmmm… so what is the goal of LiMo? Directly from their website:

LiMo Foundation is an industry consortium dedicated to creating the first truly open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices.

So it would appear they have the same goal. Since that goal includes the word “first” only one of them can accomplish that goal. It appears that Android will be first to market with an enabled handset, but we can’t help but note that word “truly” stuck between “first” and “open” in LiMo’s mission statement.

Are they taking a carefully calculated swipe at Android and the OHA because it’s not truly open? Maybe, but LiMo was formed at the beginning of 2007, before Android was announced.

Does that word “truly” have significant value in the battle between Android and LiMo? You can bet your boxers on it. (Female readers can bet their panties or underwear or whatever else, “boxers” just sounded much more cool.)

The fact that Android isn’t completely open really isn’t news to anyone. The fact remains: the practice of mobile carriers to strictly limit (and inhibit) the software capabilities on otherwise perfectly capable handsets presented an opportunity for Google to wedge themselves between Manufacturers and Carriers, supplying invaluable potential to consumers. Nobody is naive enough to believe they’re doing it simply for the “the love of the game” so to speak… they’re doing it for profit.

This could be considered an irritation to mobile carriers who purposefully restrict consumer’s abilities, force them to use their own proprietary software and then charge them an arm and a leg for additional features.

While LiMo may seem to be taking the high road by providing the first Linux OS that is “truly” open… we ask them the question… Open for who?

On page 3 of the Limo Foundation Overview (PDF), they claim to be “Middleware OS Only - avoiding conflict with operators, handset vendors and content providers.”

And thus is the reason that the two biggest carriers in the United States, AT&T and Verizon, haven’t joined the Open Handset Alliance. As Ralph De La Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, explained the hesitance of offering an Android handset, “One of the things we were looking for was that it was truly open and that you could put other features and applications on it.”

You mean like AT&T revenue generating features instead of Google revenue generating features?

Interesting to point out that Ralph uses that golden word “truly open”… including the word “truly”. AT&T isn’t a member of LiMo or anything, but the bottom line is that these companies want a “truly open” platform so they can close it right back up to their liking. The LiMo Overview outlines that Applications and Content is “as decided by user,” but how much flexibility will they have in the decision making process?

Had the stakeholders in the Mobile Industry done more to benefit the customer instead of worrying exclusively about their pockets, a “LiMo” type organization would have been formed much earlier and they never would have left the door open for Google. Instead, they’re stuck in a precarious situation wondering how they can open their phones to provide consumers more without giving Google the keys to the mobile content house.

For some of these companies it looks like LiMo will be the answer. Unfortunately for LiMo it’s simply too late. If LiMo was so promising, why would 3 out of their 8 founding members join the Open Handset Alliance (Motorola, NTT Docomo, Samsung)? Why would half of their self proclaimed “Core Members” join the OHA (Aplix, LG, Texas Instruments, Wind River)? Especially considering they share the same exact mission… only Google’s end result will be a better, more polished and capable product.

The fact is that LiMo is doomed to either fail completely or be rendered inconsequential. Nonetheless, LiMo today announced the addition of 7 gullable companies and 1 spiteful Verizon. Did anyone know that LiMo has already announced 18 handsets from 7 companies that will utilize the platform?

Take the small number of people who knew and multiply by the percentage of people that cared and you have, coincidentally, the exact same number of combined employees working for LiMo member companies.

Perhaps we’re being a little harsh on LiMo. Afterall, in the incredibly unlikely scenario that Android doesn’t shine, somehow fizzles and ultimately goes under, the mobile industry will have a Plan B. Not to mention, for cheaper devices that aren’t expected to do as much extra-curricular stuff anyways, LiMo could be a quick, easy alternative.

With LiMo’s recent announcement that Verizon had hopped onto their Board of Directors, things are starting to heat up between the LiMo platform and Google’s competing product, Android. Both are open-source Linux-based platforms, and both are aiming to rock the handset market sometime in the next year or so.

LiMo is Linux-based. Android is Linux-based. But they’re far from the same. Below, I’ll try to explain some of the key differences without going too heavy on the tech jargon. (Fiiine. It gets a bit heavy for a paragraph or two. But I’ll avoid it where possible.).

1) Backers/Funding

LiMo: The LiMo platform is backed by the LiMo Foundation, which was founded by Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Panasonic, Samsung, and Vodafone, and has since added 34 other members to the list.

In membership fees alone ($400k a year for each of the 9 “Core” members, and $40k a year for each of the 25 “Associate” members) , the foundation has raised at least 4.6 million before adding in whatever funds the founding members pitched in at the start.

Android: Android is backed by the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). OHA has 33 founding members besides Google, including 3 of the LiMo Foundation’s 7 founders (namely Samsung, Motorola, and NTT DoCoMo). No word on Android’s budget so far.

While the way Google flashes cash with things like the $10 Million Dollar Android Developer Challenge doesn’t absolutely prove that their budget is larger, it certainly implies it.

In other words: Both platforms have massive companies as partners, and presumably a good amount of money behind them. Android is largely touted as a Google project, where LiMo isn’t really pushed as being under the wing of a single company.

2) Dev Status

LiMo: LiMo was announced in January of 2007, the first handsets hit in early 2008, the API (Application Program Interface, a set of pre-defined routines for developers to utilize) is available now , and their software development kit (programming tools and documentation for developing and testing applications) is set to release in the second half of 2008.

Android: Android was announced on November 5th of 2007, and an early version of their SDK was released within a week. The first Android handsets are planned for the end of 2008.

In other words: LiMo has devices on the market and an API available, but no SDK. Android isn’t available on any handsets yet, but already has an SDK in the hands of developers. Before anyone has really began working on LiMo applications, we’re already seeing Android apps being demoed.

3) Applications

LiMo: LiMo applications can be written in C/C++, allowing them to run natively.

Android: Android applications are written in Java, so all applications will be running in a Virtual Machine. Virtual Machines mean CPU overhead, meaning applications that may not be as efficient as if they were running native. However, it almost absolutely guarantees a standard application environment across Android devices.

In other words: LiMo applications are running in a language the operating system (OS) inherently understands, while Android applications are running in a virtual environment on top of the operating system.I was wrong - Android apps aren’t running in a Java VM, they’re running in a Dalvik VM. As such, portability in either direction is unlikely.

4) Handsets/Carriers

LiMo: There are a number of LiMo based handsets on the market, from Panasonic, NEC, Motorola, Purple Labs, LG, or Aplix. Current carrier partners are Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo, and Verizon has announced plans to offer LiMo devices in 2009.

Android: HTC has mentioned that they’re working on at least 2-3 Android handsets for 2008, and LG is working on at least one for 2009. The other handset manufacturers registered as Open Handset Alliance members are Motorola and Samsung. Current carrier partners are Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, China Mobile, Telefonica and Telecom Italia.

5) Hype

LiMo: Fairly low. There just isn’t much chatter about LiMo, besides articles summarizing press releases. I couldn’t find any LiMo enthusiasts, or communities focused around LiMo devices.

Android: High, largely because of Google’s involvement and all the speculation that went on before it was announced. I found a number of opinion articles on Android, and a handful of budding fan forums.

6) Design Aspects

LiMo: Middleware only, meaning LiMo only handles things that are tucked below what the user actually sees. User experience items, such as the interface, are the responsibility of those developing the device.

Android: Android is a full software stack, meaning it consists of an operating system, middleware, user interface, and applications. Android will have a standard user interface, but as it is open source, the carrier/manufacture, and potentially the end user, are free to change it.

In other words: LiMo is only part of the software package that goes on a device, while Android is pretty much the whole package. If those developing the device are looking to start with a complete software solution, they’d probably go with Android. If they’re looking to write their user experience layer from scratch, they’d go with LiMo.

So who will win?

That’s a hard question to answer, as they both offer a totally different solution. Google offers a complete solution, which can be remolded from the top down. LiMo’s solution provides a foundation, on which developers can build the user experience from the ground up.

In terms of adoption, I’m willing to bet Android will reign victorious in the end. The crowds are already buzzing about it, and a number of developers are already cracking out code for it. Thanks to Google’s name being beside it at all times, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard a mobile operating system discussed amongst my non-gadget-obsessed friends (Even though it was just another “OMG! Is this going to be better than what’s on the iPhone?!?!” conversation,) and it hasn’t even hit the market yet.

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