The Neo FreeRunner, an open source mobile phone, is now available in South Africa through local distributors Engineering Ideas. The Neo FreeRunner, produced by Openmoko, is built using entirely open source software and open hardware.
Originally released in mid-2008 the Openmoko Neo FreeRunner was a successor to the original Neo 1973 and runs, among others, the Openmoko Linux operating system. Openmoko Linux is built from common open source components but has a customised interface designed specifically for mobile phones. Although the Neo FreeRunner ships with Openmoko Linux the phone is not limited to running that particular operating system. Already there is an active community of Android developers working on a version of Android for the Neo.
The Neo FreeRunner ships with a 2.8-inch VGA touch screen and is built around an ARM9 400MHz processor. In addition to tri-band GSM the Neo includes 802.11b/g support, AGPS, GPRS and Bluetooth 2.0 support. The Neo also includes 2 three-axis sensors which can be used to power motion-based applications.
Being an open platform means more than just including open source software. The Openmoko project also makes available the specifications, schematics and CAD files for all of the underlying hardware. With the right kind of resources anyone could reproduce the production and create their own version of the Neo FreeRunner.
Nyasha Mutsekwa of Engineering Ideas says the company has been a distributor of the Openmoko Neo FreeRunner since August this year and is already seeing a strong demand for the units from South Africa as well as other African countries. Mutsekwa says the FreeRunner is primarily aimed at the developer market and is “not really consumer ready yet”. He says that the bulk of the demand for the phone to date is from individual developers and organisations looking to develop products on top of the Openmoko platform and sell these on to consumers.
In its standard form the Neo FreeRunner ships with a basic set of functions including a dialer and a messaging application. Mutsekwa says that users are then able to customise the platform by adding additional applications to suit their needs.
Mutsekwa says, however, that there has also been a strong demand from users for Android – Google’s open source mobile platform – to be installed on the Neo and Engineering Ideas does also provide the phones with this installed.
The Openmoko Neo FreeRunner sells locally for around R2 500.