What mobile devices might support Open webOS? Think Nexus, think N9 42

by Derek Kessler Tue, 31 Jul 2012 9:47 pm EDT

What mobile devices might support Open webOS? Think Nexus, think N9

So with today's news that HP's not going to make Open webOS compatible with existing webOS devices, what devices can we expect to get support? As they said in their announcement today, HP is "aiming for support on future hardware platforms" with support for the Linux Standard Kernel 3.3 and a full complement of compatible open source drivers. The key word in their statement is 'future', and right now the answer as to which devices currently fit that mold is… none.

The Linux Standard Kernel 3.3 is relatively new and no devices have yet been certified for 3.3. Right now, all Android OEMs are on version 3.1, despite the fact that version 3.3 has support for ARM processors going all the way back to Cortex-A8 (the original Palm Pre ran one of TI's ARM Cortex-A8 processors). Future devices will no doubt eventually have the kernel module (a closed-source bit for the processor) to support 3.3, but right now there aren't any that do and we don't know when that will happen.

Historically speaking, Texas Instruments and Intel have been very good about providing documentation, adopting the latest Linux standards, and being general good supporters of the open source community. Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia, and the rest… not so much. Narrowing down our options [note: this is not a suggested purchases list, we don't recommend you buy a device on the chance that it might someday run Open webOS] to the most likely candidates among currently available devices are two: the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Nokia N9 running Meego.

Why these two? They're both fully open source devices (well, mostly - some parts like graphics drivers aren't open source, but they do at least incorporate TI's PowerVR GPUs) and they both have TI processors likely to get support for LSK 3.3. The N9 has the same single-core OMAP3630 as was found in the Palm Pre 2, though Nokia's is clocked at 1.2GHz, and the Galaxy Nexus has a newer dual-core 1.2GHz OMAP4460. Both are also slick pieces of hardware with attractive industrial design and none of the capacitive or physical buttons that still mar the face of most Android handsets (even though Android 4.0 supports on-screen buttons; Meego was designed with them). When it comes to the Galaxy Nexus, we do have to be specific that the unlocked GSM version is the one we're referring to here, as the Sprint and Verizon versions aren't fully open source thanks to carrier meddling.

What mobile devices might support Open webOS? Think Nexus, think N9

As for tablets that'll support Open webOS, right now there aren't any that fit the bill of a TI processor and open source drivers. There are a number with TI chips (notably the BlackBerry PlayBook, Amazon Kindle Fire, Motorola Xyboard, and a slew of Archos tablets), but none of them are open source. The two open source Android tablets - the Motorola Xoom and the Google Nexus 7 (built by Asus) - both have Nvidia's Tegra chips at their core. But future tablets might fit the bill a bit better, such as the Windows RT-powered Toshiba tablet shown off by TI at CES earlier this year. That tablet was running an OMAP4470 chip, which has two cores running at up to 1.8GHz - a snappy tablet indeed - though how much open source support it will have, let alone how much it will cost and when it will be released, are up in the air.

These are just for close-to-out-of-the-box support for Open webOS. Since the operating system is going to be fully open source, we have little doubt the webOS homebrew community will tackle it with gusto and get it running on even more hardware. Hacking devices to support the Linux Standard Kernel 3.3 might not be too difficult, opening up the range of devices with possible support. And seeing the dozens of devices, including the closed-source Qualcomm-powered HP TouchPad, the CyanogenMod project has managed to get their open source version of Android running on, we wouldn't be surprised to see the same happen with webOS.

Of course, there's always the option of future hardware. Eventually more chip makers and device manufacturers will adopt the updated Linux kernel. Google will of course put out more Nexus devices, and they might happen to have open source-friendly TI processors. A slew of tablets running Android and Windows RT will hit with varying degrees of open source compatibility, and who knows, maybe even HP will make compatible hardware. They might even make hardware that ships with Open webOS already installed, though like the possibilities for the devices above, we wouldn't put all of our cards on that thought.

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