The low-visibility Yopy and the Open Source handheld marketplace


Author: JT Smith

by Jack Bryar
Open Source Business

Among the emerging class of next-generation PDAs, none have more
promise than a little Korean device called Yopy — a handheld that mixes audio,
graphics and traditional PIM functions into a new breed personal computing device. Yopy was announced more than a year ago. Development has been slow, and because it is Open Source, many of the glitches that plague normal equipment development
have been open as well. For this reason, and because G.mate, its developer,
is relatively small, the company has kept a low profile.

Currently, the company is shipping a developers version of the device. It
is a pretty cool machine, and a lot could be riding on it. Yopy
could be one of the first break-through mass market systems
using Linux — or it could be an object lesson for would-be developers
to avoid an Open Source solution.

A year ago last March, the Korean firm G.mate announced that it was
partnering with the Korean electronics giant Samsung, to bring a new kind of PDA
to the market. It was not only going to do more than the average Palm
Pilot or Windows CE device, it was also going to be built from the start to take
advantage of Open Source. Better than a year later, there’s a prototype available
to developers and those willing to claim that they could be

In its current form, the Yopy PDA has a lot going for it. It is
solidly designed — even overbuilt. It features a color display, decent audio, a
sturdy if unremarkable Intel StrongARM processor, a whole pile of
RAM and both USB and wireless access to your local network. When it is ready for the mass market, developers say it will have all the classic PDA functions — an address book, a scheduler, etc. In addition, when
finished, the device will allow the user to take pictures, record oral notes,
and will support plus MP3, Web downloads and email. The Yopy
developer’s Web site
even promised there’d be a
PDA version of GO
, a far more absorbing time-waster than all of the
Microsoft Solitaire games put together. It’s cool.

More importantly, it has been designed from the outset to be a
Linux-based, mass-market device. Unlike Linux adaptations of products such as
Compaq’s iPaq PDA, using Yopy wasn’t going to require some sort of complex do-it-yourself port-over. The idea was to allow most users to simply turn it on and
use it, while still allowing geek customers to tweak their color scheme or
import homegrown software. It was backed by Samsung, a company that
knows how to merchandise in the high-volume consumer electronics marketplace.
If Linux-based devices are ever going to achieve the 9% market share
being predicted by groups such as, Yopy has to be a

So far it has been slow going.

While the initial product was announced in March 2000,
development has dragged out. Release dates came and went. The first version of the
device is now available, in the form of a developers kit, but the
makers have admitted that the device will need some work before it is ready
for the mass market. In the meantime the device, as shipped is pretty bare
bones — some basic applications are still missing. In addition, it’s
far from cheap.

Although G.mate made it clear that Yopy was going to be relatively
high end, the initial price has been an unpleasant surprise to many would-be
developers. Purchase a PalmPilot or Windows CE-based device and part of
the $300 to $500 price is the license fee for the mobile operating
systems. Consumers and some trade magazines assumed that an equivalent Linux
device would sell for about 10% less. In addition, most third-party developers
have come to expect steep equipment and software discounts in exchange for
their help with new product. Instead, G.mate announced that the original
device and developers kit would sell for over $700, the price of a cheap
last-generation PC. The company explained that the initial, limited release meant that
relative costs were high. Whatever the reason, developers balked. Traffic at G.mate’s developer site was decidedly light. The company announced a new “sale” price of around $590, good until May 10.

The company has had it’s problems with the few developers it has. In
typical Open Source fashion, many would-be developers argued about
G.mate’s decision to use W Windows, despite the fact that it simplified memory
management issues. One fellow posted a request to get help porting over a whole
series of Amiga applications he was fond of. Some complained about the The LCD controller , a key feature, but one which makes port-overs from iPaq a little complicated in some cases. A user attempted to port over
PocketLinux as a substitute platform, asking for help because the
PocketLinux people hadn’t had time to start the port . Based on the email traffic, it didn’t look like much useful development work was being done. The scene wasn’t
likely to create enthusiasm for the Open Source development process at other
consumer electronics companies.

Some third-party corporate developers have come to the rescue.
Recently Conversay, the Redmond-based speech synthesizer announced support for
the Yopy. One proposed application is an audio and direction service that
users can access through spoken commands — a sort of audio OnStar. Conversay
and some at G.mate think audio, even more than Yopy’s flashy graphics,
could be the key to a successful roll out. Market research in Japan
suggests applications like audio e-mail, voice reminders, and eventually
wireless Internet radio would go a long way to converting handheld PDAs into a
truly mass-market device.

In the meantime, there are core applications to be finished by
someone, and G.mate has announced they plan to have an improved model ready to
roll out soon — hopefully in time to catch some Christmas holiday buyers.

Even then, Yopy may not be ready for the mass market. That’s because
the type of year-long marketing push normally required to drive mass
market electronic goods hasn’t started yet. Today, outside of Linux Web sites and a few vendors like Britain’s 21Store, Yopy is virtually invisible.

A search on Samsung, or its related company’s English Web sites turns up nothing about Yopy. Neither did a search of The
Korea Herald’s
tech section. A search of my favorite source of
indiscriminate PR, BusinessWire, came up empty. So did PR Newswire . A similar search on “Palm” for the same period generated 328 hits. That’s how mass market electronics are promoted. Microsoft and its various partners have been issuing two Xbox-related press releases each week. Ericsson has been issuing two to three releases each month promoting its WAP telephones. If Samsung or G.mate plan on introducing Yopy to a mass audience, their approach is breaking new ground.

If Yopy doesn’t become a mass market phenomenon, that will be
unfortunate, for the device is an elegant machine. But if Yopy fails,
the reaction of mass market product developers could be even more
unfortunate. Many of those developers will use Yopy to judge the
viability of Open Source development and Linux-based consumer products.