OpenMoko To Enter Cell Phone Market

OpenMoko promises to enter the consumer market for cell phones this year. Could it become a viable competitor? Possibly. The company has several things going for it: Its focus on niche markets, for one.

Yesterday, OpenMoko announced its intentions to put out cell phones for consumers. At first, that may seem like another doomed effort: another unknown company trying to become the next Nokia. But actually, OpenMoko may have a better shot at entering the handset market than many think.

Here’s why: OpenMoko, whose phone will be based on an open-source platform of the same name, already works with some 16,000 developers. Nokia’s Symbian platform, which has been around for years, has attracted 55,000 developers. Android, a new phone software platform announced by Google and its partners this fall, is believed to have amassed about 10,000 developers. So OpenMoko isn’t doing half bad; it has plenty of people wanting to write software for its phones — that are not even out in the market yet. The first phone should become available to consumers in 2008.

The company also has interesting ideas about distribution: It’s particularly interested in offering devices for specific, niche markets. It may allow medical companies to greatly customize its phones to make them more convenient to use by doctors, for example. This will be a degree of customization that many handset makers don’t offer today.

Another reason to watch OpenMoko: The company is a subsidiary of First International Computer (FIC). Today, the Taiwanese company, which employs more than 5,000 people, is known for its computer components, such as motherboards. It also manufactures PCs for other companies. OpenMoko's phone (and OpenMoko makes other devices, such as GPS systems, as well) will mark the first time for the FIC to actually slap its own brand on a mobile phone. If there is demand, FIC may be able to put some serious cash into the effort.