Interview: Guy Martin of Motorola’s Linux Division

Guy Martin is a distinguished member of technical staff within Motorola’s Mobile Devices business. He helped establish, and works with groups inside of Motorola to better interface with the Open Source community. Guy also co-manages a version of inside of Motorola, to take advantage of the best practices of Open Source methodology within the company. Read in our interview with Guy below about the future of Motorola’s Linux phones and expect later this week our review of the Linux-based RoKR-E2 feature phone.

1. Will both the EZX touchscreen-based (e.g. MOTOMING/A1200) and “Chameleon” interface (e.g. MOTOROKR E2) Linux UIs continue to be developed or one will be dropped? Are these two graphical environments API source compatible or are they completely different (and just happened to be both based on Qt Embedded)?

Guy Martin Guy Martin: We will continue to work with both as different markets require different UIs — tailored to the way users interact with their devices. For example, some markets (such as Asia) desire touchscreen/handwriting recognition inputs, and some are more comfortable with keypad/joystick UIs.

As a global company, Motorola develops multiple input and UI experiences to meet these market demands — with applications, in general, being designed around whichever UI environment is present on the device.

2. Tell us about your plans to offer an SDK for your future Linux phones. How is the SDK going to be distributed, will it be usable via Windows and Unix, is it going to be free for enthusiasts or they will be required to buy a Qt license to write non-GPL applications?

Guy Martin: Motorola recently joined the Eclipse foundation as a strategic developer member, and we have proposed the new Tools for Mobile Linux (Tml) project (press release). The proposed project will provide the frameworks and tooling for the development of C and C++ applications targeting mobile devices.

This is still in the early stages of development, so stay tuned to the Eclipse site for additional information.

As far as application frameworks are concerned, Motorola is working together with NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, Samsung and Vodafone as part of the not-for-profit Mobile Linux Foundation (press release). This initiative is aimed at providing an open Linux-based mobile software platform that will lead to lower development costs, increased flexibility, shorter development cycles, and a more collaborative environment for all players..

3. What will the fate be for your non-smart OS, motofone? Will it be repositioned towards cheaper phones?

Guy Martin: To clarify, MOTOFONE is not an operating system — it is a handset designed to enable even the newest phone users to utilize mobile communication. You can check out pictures/features of the phone via or directly through our consumer site here.

I assume your core question is in reference to our existing Motorola software platform, currently found on our popular handsets such as the RAZR, PEBL and SLVR. We will continue to incorporate this platform into some of our lower-tier handsets, while at the same time, increasing the number of handsets based on Linux throughout our portfolio. We also recently acquired TTPCom — the company that makes the AJAR platform. We will use that platform on “low-tier” devices as well.

4. Is the browser of your choice for your future cellphones Opera, Netfront, Obigo or Openwave? What’s going to happen to your in-house MiB browser?

Guy Martin: We work closely with our operator partners to select the browser that makes the most sense for the targeted end user of a device. As you note, we currently utilize a number of browsers for our handset models and we will continue to offer these, plus our Motorola browser, to meet particular operator needs and requirements. I couldn’t identify a “browser of choice” as, again, there is no one size fits all at this point.

5. What is your opinion on fragmentation of mobile Linux into different groups and implementations? Do you think that eventually the bridges will be crossed?

Guy Martin: I know that Motorola is committed to doing the right thing for both the mobile industry and the Linux and Open Source communities. Coordinating Motorola’s work with the broader open source community is a big and exciting part of my job.

We recognize that the current development environment for the mobile industry is dependent on a variety of proprietary platforms that do not interoperate and have mismatched delivery cycles. This impedes innovation by forcing developers to recreate the wheel whenever they have a new offering.

Although the current mobile Linux initiatives have made great headway in moving the platform forward, having the backing of major phone manufacturers and operators is critical to the future success of the platform. Through our work with the Mobile Linux Foundation, we and the other member companies are focused on creating a platform that enables development of a wide range of new applications that will enhance the consumer experience. The companies have also announced their intent to form an independent foundation to guide this effort and help raise awareness and acceptance of the platform within mobile and developer communities.

6. What is Motorola’s biggest technical hurdle with Linux on cellphones today? How do you find its power management capabilities?

Guy Martin: With close to 5 million Linux-based smartphones shipped to date, Motorola has brought the platform beyond the ‘experimental stage’ — and in doing so, solved a number of the more difficult problems.

Right now, it’s a matter of refining and optimizing the system to run in the relatively constrained mobile environment (memory footprint, processing power, etc.). It’s the classic example of form vs. function — and in many cases, tradeoffs need to be made. Power management optimization is an on-going challenge, especially in getting Linux power management to be aware of external components like the radio — but we continue to work through these issues to fully optimize our Linux-based handsets.

7. Is binary compatibility going to be kept between most of your (and others who will use your stack) future Linux cellphones?

Guy Martin: With a common Linux platform, the goal is to keep binary compatibility as much as possible. Since this is still a new market space, the Mobile Linux Foundation initiative will play an important role in making sure that applications written for this stack will run on any phone utilizing it.

8. Comparing the Symbian/S60, Windows Mobile and PalmOS, how is Linux better or worse than these solutions?

Guy Martin: Motorola in one of the only manufacturers to have worked with all major operating systems – from Symbian to BREW to Windows to Linux to our own proprietary solution. In so doing, we’ve learned that each has it’s own strengths and challenges. However, when looking across all the key criteria for choosing an OS (i.e., speed to market, cost savings, flexibility, innovation potential, etc.) we’ve found that Linux is the most capable.

By working with Linux, Motorola can bring new capabilities to market quicker and take advantage of best-of-breed solutions to support our customers and their subscribers. Having been part of the Linux and Open Source community for quite a while, I’m excited that we will be using a platform that is open and has been peer-reviewed by a large community.

However, I want to emphasize that one size does not fit all in this industry. MSFT, Symbian and BREW have strengths (e.g., MSFT is good for the enterprise) and some customers ask for specific operating systems, so we work to accommodate those requests. Motorola recognizes the need to complement our Linux+Java offerings with strategies that support specific market segments as well.

In the end, it’s about delivering the best mobile experiences for our customers and their subscribers. We believe Linux-based platforms support this goal best, but we’ll support differentiated approaches when it makes good business sense.

9. Do you believe that carriers have way too much control or influence over the industrial, software and technical design of a cellphone? Is it possible to be a cellphone manufacturer and still be successful by selling phones in the freely in the market rather through a carrier, or is this a pipe dream?

Guy Martin: We work very closely with our operator partners to design and tailor our handsets for the ultimate consumer experience. It is not hard to see why operators are concerned about what features/capabilities are in the phones that are on their networks — they have invested a lot of time and capital to build out their infrastructure, and having native applications on the phone that have access to that network can be perceived as a risk.

Part of our ongoing work with the carriers is to help them better understand what the Open Source and enthusiast community can bring to the table in terms of compelling and safe native apps for the phone. They already understand the market for Java apps, so it is just a matter of getting them comfortable and familiar with the native space.

Per your second question, regarding retail, it really depends on the market. Motorola has actually been working in retail successfully for years — especially in Asia where there is a dominant retail market. This is not my specific area of expertise.

10. Do you believe that all phones in 5-10 will be smartphones (==ability to run native apps)?

Guy Martin: The market for mobile devices in 5-10 years could be drastically different — with a large percentage of the world today having never made a phone call (mobile or otherwise), I believe there will still be a large market for entry-level/basic mobile phones that serve primarily as communications devices.

That being said, business and ‘power’ users continue to demand better (and seamless) access to their data and their lives, so I believe in the coming years, we will see more and more ‘smart’ and/or ‘feature’ phones being developed. The needs of this class of early-adopter will continue to drive the higher-tier phone development cycle.

We would like to thank Guy Martin for taking the time to participate in this interview.


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