During a press briefing at CES on Thursday, Intel CEO Paul Otellini revealed the LG GW990, a Moorestown-powered smartphone that runs Intel’s Linux-based Moblin operating system. The product is expected to arrive on the market in the second half of this year.
When Intel lifted the curtain on Moorestown last year, the company contended that it would finally make it possible to bring the x86 architecture to smartphones. The claim seemed somewhat fantastical, but now Intel and LG could potentially deliver on that promise. Moorestown is said to be considerably more energy efficient than Intel’s previous Atom offerings, but it’s still not totally clear what kind of battery life we can expect to get from devices like the GW990 in real-world usage scenarios. LG says that the product has a 1850mAh battery and can endure five hours of 3G browsing on a single charge.
In some respects, the GW990—which has an impressive high-resolution 4.8-inch touchscreen display—seems more like a MID than a smartphone. It’s possible that we won’t see x86 phones with truly competitive all-day battery life until the emergence of Medfield, the Moorestown successor that is said to be coming in 2011. It is clear, however, that Intel aims to eventually compete squarely with ARM in the high-end smartphone market.
Intel originally launched the Moblin project in 2007 with the goal of creating an Atom-optimized Linux platform for MIDs. The focus shifted to netbooks when the company started work on Moblin 2, which began shipping on actual hardware last year.
Some of Moblin’s underlying components have great potential for facilitating rich smartphone application development, particularly the open source Clutter scene graph framework, which is used to build the Moblin user interface. Clutter—which was created by OpenedHand, a startup that Intel acquired in 2008—has been shown to be well-suited for building touschreen user interfaces. Although it’s not yet known whether Clutter is used on the GW990, it seems likely.
The GW990 will be Moblin’s first real test running on a smartphone form factor, but the platform is becoming an increasingly desirable choice on netbooks. Samsung had a large number of netbooks on display at CES, but its N127—running Novell’s SUSE-based variant of Moblin—really stood out. Moblin’s snappy and visually refined user interface is impressive and demonstrates the value that Linux can bring to the netbook market. It’s more responsive than Windows XP on the same hardware and it can clearly be customized with a look and feel that is better-suited for small screens.
Although Moblin has a lot of potential, it still suffers from some weaknesses and limitations. When we conducted extensive hands-on testing of Moblin 2 on the Dell Mini 10v back in October, the quality of the user experience was undermined by the platform’s incompleteness and lack of stability relative to other Linux-based netbook platforms.
Power management is still a major challenge, even though Intel is working on a number of ongoing projects to boost Moblin’s energy efficiency. The Novell engineers we spoke to at CES told us that the Moblin version of the N127 is at battery life parity with the Windows XP version (which means that a future Windows 7 version would likely do better still)
Another impediment for Moblin are the unanswered questions about the extent to which Intel will support the platform. Intel hasn’t been particularly responsive to concerns expressed by the Linux development community regarding the lack of proper Linux drivers for the GMA500, an integrated graphics component that Intel sold to many netbook makers.
During the Intel briefing, Otellini cited Nokia as its other major hardware partner for Moorestown smartphone action. As some readers may recall, Intel and Nokia announced a partnership last year to collaborate on Mobile Linux development. They have been working on a shared open source telephony stack for Linux called oPhono, but they haven’t had much to say publicly about what kind of hardware they were planning to build together. Now Intel has confirmed that Nokia is on board for Moorestown.
The GW990 is an impressive step forward for Intel’s vision of bringing x86 everywhere. The extent of its viability for real-world smartphone devices still remains to be seen. Engadget, which got some hands-on time with the LG GW990, found some evidence that it could potentially be headed to AT&T when it launches later this year.