Canonical, the London-based creator of Ubuntu, last night announced a new version of its OS designed specifically for smartphones. The new OS will attempt to take convergence to the next level and takes a fresh approach to multi-tasking. The first handsets running Ubuntu for phones are expected to ship in early 2014, although an early, Galaxy Nexus-compatible build will be available for download in the coming weeks.
“The Ubuntu phone will give you, the edge”
With Ubuntu for phones, Canonical has completely rethought the lock screen – renaming it the ‘welcome screen’. One of the main sentiments against Apple’s ‘slide to unlock’ patent is that it’s the most logical way to unlock a homescreen, but Canonical would certainly argue otherwise. As is shown in the video below, different thumb gestures on each edge of the screen will bring up different navigational options. It does look like a rather slick interface.
While Ubuntu for phones is optimised to render perfectly on smartphones, it maintains the power of its desktop counterpart. A Ubuntu phone can be docked with a keyboard and mouse. It’ll then boot into the desktop interface, which will not be a simply scaled up version of the mobile interface. Think of a more responsively designed, more powerful rendition of what Motorola was aiming for with the Motorola ATRIX and Lapdock.
“One search to rule them all”
Also included with Ubuntu for phones is a universal search feature, which can search through apps, files, contacts, emails, Facebook, Twitter and of course the web as well. It sounds not that far off from Alfred, a powerful app for Mac OS X which becomes a command centre for search and navigation. There are also voice commands built into the mobile version of Ubuntu, although it could have a fair bit of catching up to do with Google Now by the time it launches.
Compatible with Android apps?
Ubuntu will run on the same drivers as Android, which means that even entry-level hardware that currently runs Google’s OS could easily run Ubuntu. However, this does not mean to say that Android apps are compatible with Ubuntu for phones – they are not – and at the moment Canonical does not plan to release tools to make apps easily portable from Android. The most powerful apps will be native, but Ubuntu can also run HTML 5 apps, meaning that existing web apps or those built for other mobile OS’s with an HTML 5 base will not be too difficult to repurpose.
Joining the mobile party too late?
While the duopoly that is currently shared between Google and Apple may appear to be unassailable at this stage, it would be naive to write off newcomers. A lot can change in the space of five years – track back the same timeframe from now and Nokia was on top, iOS and Android had only just launched – although it must be said that the penetration of feature phones is not quite comparable to the software/hardware ecosystem that is driving the current market leaders. That being said it’s unlikely that Ubuntu will directly target the consumer markets of its rivals from the off and will instead focus on its existing fan base and emerging markets.
All in all it will be great to have another competitor enter the mobile space and it will be interesting to see what Canonical has to offer to the ever evolving mobile mix.