Ubuntu for smartphones looks promising

Is there room for another smartphone OS? Canonical seems to think so. The company behind Ubuntu is bringing its Linux distribution to handsets. The OS has a few interesting hooks, including a gesture-centric interface that looks pretty slick. Most of the UI’s functions are controlled by swiping in from various edges of the screen. Application controls and notification areas are hidden beyond the upper and lower edges, leaving more real estate available for content and other information. The edge gestures remind me a little bit of Windows 8—in a good way—and they look like a nice fit for handheld devices.

Touch won’t be the only form of input supported by the OS. Voice recognition seems to factor heavily into Canonical’s plans, and users should be able to ask apps to perform various functions. Speaking of apps, Canonical is hyping the fact that Ubuntu for smartphones uses the same web application framework as the desktop version of the OS. Web apps are treated like standalone applications and have access to the same system functions, such as the status icons, notifications, and the like. IT folks will surely appreciate the fact that Ubuntu-equipped smartphones can be managed using the same tools designed for the desktop.

While this all sounds intriguing, some challenges remain. According to The Verge, the swipe-friendly UI isn’t always intuitive. Worse, the demo unit was “consistently laggy,” which simply won’t fly in a world filled with super-smooth iPhones and Project Butter-infused Android handsets. The biggest problem, though, is the fact that the first device isn’t expected until the end of this year. Next-generation smartphones should all be out by then, and it may be difficult for Ubuntu-based devices to match the latest hardware.

Canonical says Ubuntu for smartphones can use the same kernels and drivers as Android, so it should at least be easy for device makers to adopt the OS. That compatibility should also appeal to enterprising coders who want to roll their own ROMs.

Comments closed
    • shank15217
    • 10 years ago

    gentoo is one of the worst way to waste your entire day. If you want bleeding edge use fedora ootherwise ubuntu LTS is fine.

    • DrCR
    • 10 years ago

    Awesome… sort of.

    My primary non-work OS is Slackware. 10.4 Tiger after that. I haven’t checked out Ubuntu since 9.* or so, I’d guess. I’d loved to see a *nix phone, but after the whole Amazon thing, I can’t help but wonder if they are trustworthy (not that any other smartphone OS would be really any different).

    • moog
    • 10 years ago

    Doesn’t support Android apps AFAIK.

    • Farting Bob
    • 10 years ago

    Most people would agree that Unity is far more suited to touchscreen phones, tablets are small screen laptops. The issue people had was that it was forced onto the desktop where it wasnt as beneficial.

    • Hattig
    • 10 years ago

    ” The edge gestures remind me a little bit of Windows 8″

    Hardly original though, they are a feature of the Blackberry Playbook, and probably many other devices.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    Hm, ok, I guess it’s all perception. I do my best not to take things too seriously, I know I make fun of other people but I am perfectly willing to make fun of myself too. Life is too short to get all super serious about almost everything we discuss on TR.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    Digging deeper, the ultimate bottom line is Google cares about ad impressions first. The datamining from other services is useful for them, but even that’s all in support of ads.

    Android phones obviously didn’t make Apple happy, and Apple fired back with iAds. The latter in particular was the beginning of the souring of the relationship from Google’s viewpoint. You can see over time how Apple wants to push their users away from Google by at least providing alternatives, that goes back before iOS 6 maps.

    • indeego
    • 10 years ago

    Google cares that you use an interface that most reliably gets you to their services. So they do care about Android, and they care about Windows, hence the auto-update “feature” that runs keeping Chrome as up to date as possible. Google cares more about transport and getting those search queries in than anything.

    Android is a reaction to a world where Google saw an eventual behemoth Apple taking search revenue way down the line.

    • Shoki
    • 10 years ago

    I want to put this on my Nexus 4.

    • ronch
    • 10 years ago

    Smartphone OSes: There’s always room for one more.

    • Washer
    • 10 years ago

    Clearly the troll is not “neckbeards.” It’s literally every word other than neckbeards in your post.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 10 years ago

    I’m sure Google welcomes more Linux on smartphones and tablets. They can co-opt the code into Android and not have to do all the heavy lifting themselves.

    Plus, Google doesn’t care if you use Android. They only care that you use platforms that are open enough so as to allow you to use all their services religiously. They launched their all-out assault on iOS when it became clear they couldn’t count on Apple always giving them preferred status forever in iOS. It became necessary to own the platform to ensure they had some leverage when they wanted to add features to certain apps.

    I think it was Google Voice that made Apple balk and so it was Google Voice that compelled Google to make Android a priority. If only Apple had been more open, Android wouldn’t have been necessary.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    Yeah, intent is everything and I am joking 99% of the time. If anyone really got upset over ‘neckbeards’ though, they ought to just turn off the internet right now, there’s a lot worse.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 10 years ago

    WTFV? RTFA? ICWUDT?

    • moog
    • 10 years ago

    The fact that it behaves like a PC when “docked” makes a device like this a powerful utility.

    If the hardware manufacturers started selling CPUs/boards/memory/cases/etc. it might create a market of build-it-yourself phones similar to the PC market.

    I would definitely build an Intel powered phone and install Ubuntu (or Win8 if it works). Realistically I could see Dell offering Intel phones with the Ubuntu option.

    Edit: Maybe never mind, I’d hate to work on tiny screens. I just wish we had build-it-yourself tablet/convertible Intel options, I think ARM devices are useless still.

    • sweatshopking
    • 10 years ago

    i wouldn’t say it’s the most common type. there are really just a few of us, and i don’t know of too many really “trollish” comments. his was a joke, not really a troll. they’re not the same thing, one is annoying, the other is funny.

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 10 years ago

    Almost every Android device supports side-loading. App makers are free to use what ever distribution they want.

    • Washer
    • 10 years ago

    Solid troll. Now TR just needs to post Linux-related news items 3 days in a row to see if you’ll go for it tomorrow too.

    Thinking about it though… isn’t TR’s comment section full of constant trolling? It has to be the most common type of post here now.

    • ludi
    • 10 years ago

    These pictures are definitely of a Galaxy Nexus, right down to the three pins on the side for dock charging. It’s possible Canonical was using them as test mules, albeit these press images have been Photoshopped pretty heavily.

    • End User
    • 10 years ago

    [quote<]The biggest problem, though, is the fact that the first device isn't expected until the end of this year. [/quote<] I wish companies would wait until they had a shipping product before they announced stuff. I wish them well. I'd definitely buy a second phone to try it out.

    • willmore
    • 10 years ago

    I’m not at all conflicted. I have no need for Ubuntu on anything.

    “No Linux was harmed in the making of this phone, but it was extremely embarrased.”

    • LSDX
    • 10 years ago

    Is this supposed to be the “phone version” of ubuntu-for-android ?

    I would go for such a solution if it keeps compatibility with “classic” android apps (both ARM and x86), while at the same time providing full Linux desktop (again either ARM or x86) when connected to a screen and keyboard.
    I don’t mind “additional” web apps, but I won’t be ready to wait for my favorite apps to become turned into a web app (which btw doesn’t make sense for a lot of non-communication apps, like games and media players).

    This would also be the scenario i’d prefer to see for W8: touch controls when used as a tablet, pure keyboard/mouse controls (and no metro) when docked.

    • windwalker
    • 10 years ago

    Congratulations on identifying the least important problem in the mobile market today.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 10 years ago

    if they’re using Android kernel/drivers it shouldn’t be that tough. Still, only 2 months may be a little optimistic.

    • windwalker
    • 10 years ago

    Their goal is the same it’s ever been: get some semblance of a foothold in the consumer market.

    • axeman
    • 10 years ago

    Yeah, I can’t wait for Ubuntu to start breaking random stuff on my phone with every update because they think they need to upgrade every subsystem to the latest version whether it makes sense or not, just because there is a new upstream release. On the other hand, something like Unity makes way more sense on a touchscreen device.

    • bjm
    • 10 years ago

    Canonical should release distribution images so that users can install them directly on their phones. If they can bring the same level of support for these images as they do actual devices, I might give it a whirl.

    • windwalker
    • 10 years ago

    The battle of the titans: Ubuntu versus Tizen.

    • windwalker
    • 10 years ago

    There’s no way Canonical would have been able to port Ubuntu to Nexus 4 in the short time the hardware has been out.

    • windwalker
    • 10 years ago

    Too bad they didn’t show their only point of differentiation: the possibility to dock it and use it as a desktop.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    Tell that to Engadget [url=http://www.engadget.com/2013/01/02/ubuntu-for-smartphones/<] where they state it's a Galaxy Nexus[/url<] Also, try looking [url=http://www.google.com/nexus/4/<]here[/url<] and notice the different position of the front speaker, it's at the very top edge of the glass on the Nexus 4. It is true that Canonical is providing Nexus 4 OS images, but the phone being used for promo shots doesn't seem to be a Nexus 4.

    • jdaven
    • 10 years ago

    “…collecting this 30% tax on everything.”

    Please provide an alternative “free” method for an individual app developer that works out of his/her apartment to distribute his/her app worldwide without the help of digital distribution server farm owned and operated by a third party.

    • sschaem
    • 10 years ago

    I hope this lives on. I’m tired of just 3 US corporation controlling the app market and collecting this 30% tax on everything.

    I can see China licensing this for their mips based mobile devices platform… And if this takes off, I can see them flooding the rest of the world (Well central/south america and Asia)

    • gmskking
    • 10 years ago

    Actually, it is a Nexus 4 🙂

    • sschaem
    • 10 years ago

    Already tormented from ios and Android. Whats one more unix based mobile platform going to do to them ?

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    That’s because it is a Galaxy Nexus.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    Neckbeard wannabes then?

    • chuckula
    • 10 years ago

    Getting real Linux running on a smartphone: Good idea.
    Trusting Canonical to do it right: Not such a good idea.

    • ChronoReverse
    • 10 years ago

    I don’t see how this could possible gain traction (also a problem for Open WebOS, Boot to Firefox, etc.)

    Without carrier support, the masses won’t even hear about this. By being less smooth and having fewer apps than the established players, a lot of the enthusiasts would be turned off. What’s left is a small minority of people willing to tinker and live with the teething issues.

    It’s definitely an interesting project but what’s Canonical’s goal for this?

    • derFunkenstein
    • 10 years ago

    The Ubuntu Phone looks suspiciously like a Galaxy Nexus.

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 10 years ago

    Neckbeards don’t use Ubuntu. They have gentoo.

    • ludi
    • 10 years ago

    Ouch.

    • HTarlek
    • 10 years ago

    This should be at least as successful as Open WebOS has been so far.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    Neckbeards everywhere burn with conflicted rage as their OS might directly take part in the mobile revolution, but with Unity interface.

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