Today [depending on the timezone maybe even yesterday], we started to inform those developers whom we have selected for the 'Phase 0', i.e. those who will receive a Neo1973 free of cost (including shipping). Those phones are scheduled to leave Taiwan on Feb. 11.
So this heads-up mail two weeks in advance is mainly to obtain shipping address, and ask whether there are any special customs related issues that need to be taken care of.
Yes, it is somewhat elitist to hand-pick people and then send them free hardware. But I don't really see a viable alternative approach for a start. Those recipients are people who are really known to contribute to the FOSS world, and of whom we think they would really like to contribute to this project.
Now some FOSS critics (or people critical of businesses engaging with FOSS) might say: Yeah, now you think the rest of your phone is developed for free. This is completely wrong.
This project is ran by people who believe in Free Software. It is from the community for the community. It is an important chance for Free Software and user freedom in this otherwise completely controlled mobile phone market.
Basically we have a hardware vendor (FIC) providing us with phone hardware, for which they
- fund to hire selected developers within the community
- provide complete hardware documentation and hardware support, even the ability to feed back hardware wish list items
- give us complete freedom where we want to take this project
Now you might still think: "In the end, they will make the profit". This is only true to a certain degree. First of all, everything we develop is Free software. Everything but the hardware specific bits could easily be run on any other piece of hardware. So anyone who wants to either contribute code or hire capable developers could theoretically port the whole thing on different hardware.
Also, while we ourselves think that this product will rock, this is really a nice market. It's interesting for geeks, hackers and certain power users. Not unlike OpenWRT in the field of wireless routers - but with active support by the hardware manufacturer.
So I personally cannot believe any of those "they just want to get development for free" arguments and want to strongly encourage the interested community to join this effort and help us make Free Software a viable alternative in the mobile phone market.