A Populist Challenge to Apple's iPhone

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Many phones will step up to challenge the iPhone, over which analysts appeared all agog after Apple's announcement this week. In one effort, a phone called the "Neo1973" will enlist an army of developers around the world.

They'll go after a key aspect of the iPhone–that it is apparently closed to third-party developers.

That means you'll get to use only software that Apple writes, or OK's. Apple is notoriously protective of the software that runs on its gadgets, arguing that locking programs down makes for a more consistent and stable product. But third-party applications are allowed on, and considered a strength of, phones that run Palm and Windows Mobile. Apple Chairman Steve Jobs apparently thinks his folks can answer all the needs of iPhone users.

At the other end of the spectrum is Sean Moss-Pultz, a young tech enthusiast who tired of phones that can't be upgraded at will. He has developed the Neo1973, which is an entirely open-source phone, and convinced a big Taiwanese electronics maker to release it next month. It won't have all the hardware that the iPhone has, including a camera and built-in WiFi, but will have some things the iPhone doesn't, including expandable memory. And while I haven't seen the iPhone, I did see the Neo1973 at the Consumer Electronics Show, and its screen is also brilliant. The phone itself is stylish, and the applications that come with it appear polished, though I suspect not as groundbreaking as Apple's appear to be. Still, more Neo1973 applications may come flooding from developers anxious to customize a phone to their liking.

Here's a comparison of the two. Note that the Neo1973 can be used with any carrier on a GSM network (including Cingular and T-Mobile) and costs $150 less than the iPhone–with no required service contract.

Yes, the phrase "open source" invokes the image of geeks fiddling with their Linux computers, and the Neo1973 won't be for everyone.

But neither will the iPhone.