FreeRunner entering mass production

Word on the OpenMoko community list is that FreeRunner has been cleared to enter mass production.

FreeRunner will be the world's first freed phone, and it is arriving not a minute too soon. Mobile phones are now everywhere, and they are becoming the premier mode of communication and computation for many, especially in the developing world. Mobile phones can deliver on the promise of ubiquitous computing— but only if they have been freed.

For the mobile phone, or any technology, to realize its true potential, the ones with the incentive to see it improve— the users— must have the power to improve it. That is as sure a law as there ever was one, and should be pretty apparent to anyone who has taken an economics class. Unfortunately, essentially all phones sold today are deficient in that respect.

The power to improve the system may, of course, be realized exercised directly (if I do some work myself) or indirectly (if I pay someone else to do it). But when this power is totally sequestered away, that necessarily puts a damper on innovation. This is the case with any proprietary software product: the vendor is the only one with the power and the right to make changes to the software. Sure, you could attempt to pay the vendor to make the changes. But they, being the only ones who can do it anyway, will charge monopoly prices. And they can refuse to do it at all if doing so would, for example, cut into sales of another of their products. So as long as they are the sole entry-point, you are beholden to them.

Even if one can assume that the vendor is generally benevolent, they still have a finite amount of resources. They cannot entertain implementation requests from every guy in his office, school, or lab. And that is unfortunate because one of those people has the next big thing on his hands. Creativity is everywhere.

The two great revolutions in computing— the rise of the PC, and the emergence of web applications— demonstrate that freedom leads to the kind of innovation that transforms people's lives. It is no accident that the explosion in personal computers happened on the platform that had commodity hardware, not the one with a single hardware vendor. And I can say with some confidence that the web would not be what it was today had AOL (yes, remember AOL?) been its sole gatekeeper for both access and content.

The mobile phone ecosystem is still in its infancy. Today, mobile phone software and hardware do not support (and sometimes actively inhibit) using a device to its fullest. But when (and only when) mobile phones are unshackled, we will see creative innovations that we can probably not even imagine today. When mobile phones are truly ubiquitous they will be not just devices for communication but also for computation, sensing, and entertainment, and they will be deeply integrated into the activities of our lives.

One of the goals for FreeRunner is to have a phone which runs on free software, but what is neat about OpenMoko is that they realize that they are not just a software project. They are doing whatever it takes to help the mobile phone reach ubiquity. OpenMoko released the CAD files for the case of the FreeRunner— people are talking about machining cases in different colors, alternate styles, even a bicycle mount for the FreeRunner. I cannot wait to see what is next.

No comments:

Post a Comment