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.