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Lenovo Courts Devs WIth Moto Z Source Code Release

By Richard Adhikari
Sep 26, 2016 3:45 PM PT
open-source

Lenovo, which owns Motorola, last week released the kernel source code for the Moto Z Droid smartphone on Github.

The move follows the company's posting of the Moto Z Droid Moto Mods Development Kit and Moto Mods on Github this summer.

This is the first kernel source code made available for the Moto Z family of devices.

Releasing the kernel source code seems to be another step in Lenovo's attempt to get devs to build an iPhone-like ecosystem around the Moto Z family.

Mod Happy

The Z family is modular. Lenovo's Moto Mods Developer Program lets devs buy the Mod development kit, which offers the same hardware and software used internally at Motorola.

The kit snaps onto the back of a Moto Z and makes it easy for devs to add custom electronics and software to support their Moto Mod concept.

Mod possibilities are endless, ranging from infrared cameras to e-ink displays to game controllers to metal detectors and air pollution sensors. All devs have to do is ensure they follow Motorola's developer guidelines.

Moto Z phones are designed to be compatible with any Moto Mod created and certified through Motorola.

The release of the kernel source code on Github is meant "to expedite modifications of this system for that chunk of the ecosystem," said Al Hilwa, a research program director at IDC.

Deep Insights

Motorola has been working on the Moto Z family and Moto Mods for more than two years.

Mods connect to the frame with very strong magnets and there's an automatic connection process so the phone doesn't have to be rebooted.

Developers can do "just about anything," observed Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan. "Github has everything from NoSQL databases to source code for open devices."

Devs can use the Motorola source code to "reprogram the device to do things that it doesn't come from the factory capable of doing," he told LinuxInsider. "Think app stores and the various applications that utilize deep insight into the phone's OS to perform lots of functions."

On the negative side, however, "you could theoretically exploit [the code] to compromise the security of the device," Jude noted, and end users could "kill their smartphones in newer and more creative ways."

Lenovo and Motorola could benefit because, "like with any open source community, they could leverage other people's creativity to improve their product," he said.

$1M Carrot

The code release is really "an attempt to win over power users and their influential endorsement," Hilwa told LinuxInsider.

While the code release could benefit devs and Lenovo/Motorola, "to the extent that it leads to further fragmentation of a specific device, developers will have a hard time testing and assuring the quality of their apps on this particular device," Hilwa suggested.

The companies' efforts to attract devs are limited, given that the Moto Z Droid is offered exclusively on Verizon Wireless' network. Verizon likes to keep its systems closed, as a rule, so that customers can't root or ROM their devices.

Devs might not think there's a large enough user base on just one carrier's network to make it worth their while. Still, Lenovo has set aside up to US$1 million to help bring the best Moto Mod ideas to market, and that might spur action.


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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