Lost in the iPhone brouhaha was a June 27th announcement about a phone that may turn out to be more revolutionary:
In our factory in China, 400 Neos are waiting… Starting July 9th, we will launch openmoko.com and start taking orders.
400 units sounds laughable compared to the iPhone’s initial run of 6 million. But it is the seed of something that could turn out to be insanely great. Steve Jobs will remember that the initial production run of the Apple I was only 220 units.
The Neo 1973 looks somewhat similar to the iPhone. It has a similar multi-touch screen that has twice the resolution (640×480) of the iPhone, though it is physically smaller.
What is revolutionary is the software business model. The iPhone isn’t even technically a Smart Phone, since it doesn’t support third party applications. The Neo 1973 is Linux-based, it is open source, and you are welcome to modify it to suit your needs.
This is huge for small, vertically oriented ISVs all over the world. While Motorola and other phone makers have already delivered Linux phones, they are notoriously secretive about the APIs, and make it almost impossible to develop tightly integrated applications. With the Neo 1973, ISVs will finally be free to customize a phone for a particular application or vertical market.
The first version shipping in early July will not support Wi-Fi. A revision in October will. This will be a breakthrough device, selling only to enthusiasts and early adopters in 2007, but gaining sales through 2008 as more applications are developed, and as hardware improvements (like faster CPU, larger screen, 802.11n, NFC, more memory, improved battery life, thinner) are made.