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Japan takes Android beyond phones; Nokia may respond with Maemo

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 15 April, 2009

READ MORE: Nokia | Japan

Android may only be available in one handset, but it could soon appear in a wide range of devices from set-top boxes to netbooks, as the Japanese consumer electronics sector shows rising interest in Google's Linux-based system. However, it will not have the show to itself - not only is the LiMO Foundation holding on in the mobile space, but Intel is opening up its Moblin Linux platform and Nokia looks increasingly likely to put Linux further towards the center of its strategy, building on its Maemo-based offering.

On the handset front, the next Android device could launch next week, with T-Mobile USA, the carrier behind the current G1 phone, scheduling a press conference on April 21, widely expected to be its implementation of the HTC Magic (to be carried by Vodafone in Europe). But Android's tentacles could soon stretch far further, especially in Japan. Here, Motorola is building a set-top box for KDDI, to be launched in October under the carrier's 'au' brand. It will allow users to take their music and video content with them on the go by connecting to a handset or portable player.


And a group of Japanese CE manufacturers, calling themselves the Open Embedded Software Foundation (OESF), are looking to use Android in a range of devices with embedded wireless, such as set-tops, VoIP phones, karaoke machines, security and monitoring systems, and digital photo frames. The founder members are ARM, KDDI, Japan Cable Laboratories, Alpine Electronics and Fujitsu Software, and first products should appear at Japan's largest electronics show, CEATEC, in the fall. JVC is also said to be developing an Android TV set.

OESF chairman Masataka Miura said the Foundation had been established in February to create a viable Android platform for embedded products and now has 25 members. It will look into applications and services, as well as marketing and awareness programs, not just hardware.

While ARM has stolen a march on Intel in being an original member, Miura told EETimes that many semiconductor companies are also interested in joining, including Intel itself, TI, Marvell, Freescale, Qualcomm and Renesas. The group plans to open offices in Taiwan and South Korea this summer.

Against this backdrop, a response from Nokia is widely expected. Of course, the main one has come from the open sourcing of Symbian and Series 60 to provide a more established and mature open source option for handsets. However, Nokia does use the Maemo Linux platform in a few products too, notably its Internet Tablets, and with its recent heavy hints about a more aggressive cross-platform strategy, is likely to use this system to drive a push into netbooks and other non-handset devices. This could entail the porting of Series 60 to Linux, and will certainly see Nokia pouring R&D resources into beefing up its implementation of Maemo to act as a viable counterweight to Android in the Linux world.

All of which could make Mobile Linux even more fragmented than it already is ....

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