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Neo900 Progress Update - March

Mar 14, 2014, Sebastian Krzyszkowiak

The Neo900 project is still alive and steadily progressing.

Quite a lot of time has already passed since our last update. In case some of you felt unpleasant with already backed project not giving any sign of life - we're sorry that we exposed you to such feelings. Anyway, we're certainly not sorry to report that we're in fact still alive!

February was a pretty tough month for us. Most of the time, instead of doing what we love - that is designing the phone of our dreams - we had to get some organizational stuff sorted out. Lots of meetings with notaries and tax advisers were exhausting, but surely needed in order to ensure that our journey can be completed without unpleasant legal implications to anyone. This was one of the main reasons behind our limited activity, but luckily seems like we've got most of the important things sorted out.

The main result of all those efforts is the newly founded company, Neo900 UG (haftungsbeschraenkt), run by Joerg Reisenweber. The company takes the role of the head of this project and will hold its finances. Neo900 UG will continue the cooperation with Golden Delicious Computers GmbH&CO.; KG on development of the Neo900 handsets, thus the people behind the project remain unchanged.

But it's not like we did nothing but talking with lawyers. We've been reporting some smaller stuff via our thread on Maemo Talk forums. Let's sum it up!

Lots of things are happening in stuff partially related to our project and it would be shame to not report the neater ones.

Have you heard about the DragonBox Pyra - the OMAP5 based OpenPandora successor? Pyra, the "ultimate portable console", is expected to be released somewhere in 2015. Why are we promoting it here? Aside of sharing the same message about hardware openness, the OpenPhoenux community had already helped to make production of OpenPandora possible when its future was uncertain due to production problems; but now we're collaborating even closer. Dr. H. Nikolaus Schaller, CEO of Golden Delicious Computers and one of the heads behind the Neo900 project, is also working on the new Pandora. The close collaboration between our projects can lower the prices thanks to component re-use. We're also looking forward to the knowledge gained by working on OMAP5 design, which may be helpful for possible future Neo900 successors and/or update modules. At the end of February, on embedded world 2014 in Nürnberg there has been an informal meeting of some CEOs: Nikolaus (Golden Delicious Computers GmbH&CO.; KG), Joerg (Neo900 UG (haftungsbeschraenkt)), Michael Mrozek (OpenPandora GmbH) and Lukas Märdian (working for GDC on Replicant) and opportunities of closer collaboration and synergies got discussed. So... say hello to the Pyra!

Few days ago the project has moved its defunct for some time mailing lists to OpenPhoenux servers, and together with that move Dr. Michael Lauer, one of the FSO fathers and member of the original team of Openmoko engineers, announced his return to the project after dropping out about 3 years ago when his daughter was born. Together with the announcement, he introduced his FSO revitalizing plan. The fate of FSO is crucial for some of the software projects that we hope to see working on Neo900, possibly including the Maemo Fremantle port, so we're crossing our fingers for its success!

There's also a hot news circulating the media right now about a possible backdoor in Android modem libraries on some Samsung phones, revealed by Replicant developers one month ago. Revelations like that always shed some light on how we perceive the usage of closed, proprietary software on our devices. In fact, most of modern devices don't even need such backdoor to be able to spy on users, as their modems are directly connected to the main RAM, allowing it to read and manipulate anything that runs on the main CPU. While we sadly cannot provide fully free modem due to both lack of resources and problems with legislation effectively rendering firmware-modified modem illegal to use under most jurisdictions, we're glad to tell that Neo900 is from the very beginning being designed in a way that makes possible backdoors like the one found on Samsung phones practically impossible to occur - which is important due to fact that we're going to use a third party modem module in which we don't have any control over the internals like its firmware. We won't allow the modem to access any data that's not supposed to be available to it and all of our hardware choices are always made with the ability to use free software drivers in mind. Our phones are not supposed to be the tools used by others to spy on us.

Also, there's a good progress being made on Replicant port for GTA04 and the upstream developers have recently resumed their efforts to get GTA04 officially supported by this free Android implementation. Most of this work should be pretty much reusable on Neo900 as well, and Replicant developers have already expressed their initial interest for Neo900 port. Let's hope that all those efforts, together with stack and Fremantle port getting more and more closed blobs replaced by free equivalents, will provide the solid base for the free software operating systems for mobile phones and the Neo900 itself will start the new branch of freedom and privacy respecting mobile devices - based on what was started few years ago by Openmoko and is now proudly continued by the OpenPhoenux community.

All of that was about what was done - but what's next?

We're looking forward to getting the next prototype done by the end of the month, and as this work is being done in parallel to the prototype of the DragonBox Pyra, we'll be already able to share some interesting components with that project. There are also discussions happening internally right now about the implementation details and component choosing for our modem sandboxing and monitoring solution, robust battery charging, RGB LEDs controllers, battery hotswap support, nice WLAN module etc.

So to sum everything up: if someone hoped to see our project turning into forgotten vaporware - sorry to disappoint you! We're on an exciting journey to finally get a really hacker-friendly phone and we're not gonna abort our mission that easily! :)

PS. Happy Pi Day!

Follow-up the discussion on: Hacker News Reddit

Neo900 Progress Update - April »

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The Neo900 project aims to provide a successor of N900 Nokia Internet Tablet™ device, with faster CPU, more RAM and LTE modem, basing efforts on an already existing, mature and stable free platform - the OpenPhoenux GTA04, following the spirit of freedom known from Openmoko devices.