Archive for August, 2007

How not to build a cellphone: OpenMoko after the hype

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Finally my Neo1973 (advanced box) arrived. Finally, because I did not even expect it anymore. Not because they targetted beginning of 2007 to ship the initial prototypes, but because the people running the online store and shipment have been so unresponsible and did not answered a single mail asking on a status update. We where mostly curious, because we ordered early and the shop did not yet had the “no functional software” disclaimer and no color choice option. So we had to answer auto generated mails confirming “YES_I_DO” “know that there is no functional software” and which color to ship: “ORANGE”. But then there was a big silence - and apparently we thought the order would have been gone lost or whatever. But - well - now it is there.

Of course I knew the software is not ready, I even replied “YES_I_DO”. Actually I did not even care, because I’m going to use it for my own development. However, that it would be that incomplete, I did not dare to imagine: Depending on which image set you flash (2007.1 or 2007.2) you either get a little UI phoning capability, but unreadable buttons and fonts (2007.1) or no phoning, but better buttons and readable fonts (2007.2). No phoning due to a non starting gsmd. And on some actions, such as activating GSM with no SIM present and other variations the whole X server dies away. Ooops.

Even for images where a the gsmd is started, they usually (at least not for me for all the pre-built images I gave a try) did not even setup the ALSA mixer to route the GSM audio stream somewhere. And as there is not even an UI part to alter the audio level, yes. This mean you either have to use the built-in terminal or ssh into the phone to load ALSA settings in order to be able to communicate with the person you are talking with. Now both problems should be one-lines to fix, and I wonder why even after man years of development and nearly 1000 shipped phones this did not even happen?

13:18 < hhf423> so, here we go. the new SIM I have here gets accepted by the Neo
13:19 < hhf423> the not so funny part is that I do not get asked for a PIN. libgsmd-tool dialling works, though
13:20 < hhf423> oooh, i get asked for pin, the joy!
13:23 < woglinde> hhf423 hehe
13:23 < woglinde> dial 112
13:26 < hhf423> how do I crank up the vulume, I can hear nothing
13:27 < hhf423> something with slsa, no?
13:27 < hhf423> alsa
13:27 < woglinde> hhf423 alsamixer
13:27 < woglinde> m for mute/unmute
13:27 < woglinde> up down/left right
13:27 < hhf423> woglinde: where is that?
13:27 < woglinde> open console
13:28 < woglinde> type alsamixer

Additionally the closed GSM firmware of the Texas Instruments Calypso based chip has compatibility problems with most SIM cards from the year 2007. While my USIMv1 I use primary in my primary (functional) phone (Sony M600i) my second SIM I just got for testing the Neo phone is a USIMv2 which does work with the GSM modem at all. From the #openmoko IRC channel and their bug #666 it becomes obvious this is one of the biggest showstoppers for new users of the Neo1973 phone right now. Let’s hope FIC and TI can provide a firmware update in the future.

But if that is not all, the Neo has a rather short battery life right now, probably the reason why (at least my advanced) came with 2 battery packs. As the phone did not overlived the first night I explicitly turned it off the second, but still the battery was fully drained in the morning. Yes, while it was “software off”. Maybe the GSM modem was left on in the firmware was proposed as an answer on the #openmoko channel - probably, as I can not imagine the Philips power-management chip would draw that much energy.

Last but not least the GPS chip can not yet used due to no open protocol spec and no clearance to ship the binary blog from the manufacture, …

Well - that said it becomes clear why the OpenMoko company let you select:

Please note that the OpenMoko products are not meant for the end user and explicitly marked as Developer preview at this time. Read this wiki article to find more technical details of what you can and cannot expect of these devices. I have been warned!

Well any other company would probably be bashed badly with such a product, but - well - the OpenMoko is a shiny Open project. Well, almost. The driving force behind the phone is FIC, First International Computer, and it’s newly founded sub-company OpenMoko, Inc. Most development happens behind closed doors and closed IRC channels: #openmoko-devel and #openmoko-core can only be joined with a channel key. The hardware schematics are non-free and most of the time changes appear to be only communicated in the classic, one big PR event at a time fashion with counting news probabilites counting up in the channel:

Probability for major news utill next wednesday 70%.

Now while pointing out this mayor flaws in the #openmoko channel, you get badly bashed about beeing a troll, to go away, to be /ignored, … Now they care about their customers.

At last I like to point out that the OpenMoko folks are also not basing on existing open source code for their applications. With the focus on Gtk+, GPE would have been a natural choice. But the project decided to implement an own application stack from scratch, with custom Gtk+ widgets and applications - maybe to have some IP lock-in for their OpenMoko Inc. company?

For OpenMoko it can only be hoped they get their software stack into an better shape, because otherwise the “just average” phone hardware is of little use and not really an helpful promotion for Linux on embedded end user devics.

Update 2007-11-24:

Still not much progress update, The Rasterman is now paid by FIC/OpenMoko, while Harald Welte quit as technical project lead.

Some random daily IRC scroll-by:

17:35 < Writchie> Crofton: actually the “design process”, if it even exists, is completely closed.
17:35 * mwester still is stuck with a hammerhead.
17:36 < mwester> Writchie: the “if” is a big question when it comes to certain parts of the software ;)
17:36 < Writchie> and hardware
17:36 < buz_> mwester: even with the hardware i have my doubts
17:37 < Writchie> 9 spins of the board - gimme a break
17:38 < edistar> Writchie: 9? quite a lot..
17:38 < buz_> other companies churn out 2 phones a month
17:38 < edistar> buz_: lol.. but I hope the next generation will be faster..
17:39 < Writchie> not unless they get some engineering process
17:39 < edistar> Writchie: What does that mean?
17:39 < buz_> hiring some good industrial designers wouldnt hurt, either
17:40 < Writchie> chinese engineering teams do what you tell them - if you don’t tell them you can get anything
17:40 < CM> I think someone said GTA01 was designed by some guys in taiwan, but gta02 was done “in house”
17:40 < CVirus> in house ?
17:40 < CM> By OpenMoko
17:41 < oramirez> Hi, I am trying to install openmoko h3900 image, but it freezes at the booting. I have been searching for some work-around .. but I haven’t found anything.. any idea?

16:25 < borg_> abraxa_: i could deamonize neod and add dbus bindings and outsource the aux/power menu and the lock display, but i wont do it when neod will go anyway :)
16:26 < borg_> so it is like with every other application in openmoko, no information about the future of them at all.