Are you a phone fan who’s looking for the latest developments in mobile technology? An iOS or Android user tired of your current platform? A hipster who feels that current offerings in the mobile market are too mainstream? Or are you just interested in an innovative new smartphone operating system? If so, you may want to check out the new Ubuntu Phone OS, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month in Las Vegas and projected to be first available sometime in February.
Canonical Ltd., the UK-based software company founded by Mark Shuttleworth, is developing the project and providing financial backing. They hope to compete in a market dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, promising new features such as a truly open-source phone and the potential to replace the conventional PC, though they will need hardware manufacturers to cooperate.
If you ever get tired of the restrictions Apple places on iOS software, apps and so on, or Android carriers taking months or years to update their phones to the newest version, Ubuntu Phone’s openness may appeal to you. Ubuntu is a distribution of Linux and is already a popular operating system for PCs, servers and businesses.
Linux is open source, meaning that anyone can view the code and change it if they wish. This kind of openness will carry over into the Ubuntu Phone. With nearly all modern phones these days featuring at least some open source elements, it was really only a matter of time before a completely open source phone entered the market. With the growing trend of open source technology, the Ubuntu Phone appears poised for success.
Perhaps the most interesting planned feature is the possibility of the phone to act as a PC replacement. Does your laptop or desktop computer just feel too old-fashioned and clunky? With today’s high-end phones possessing processors approaching the power and performance of a laptop a few years ago, it may soon be possible to use your phone as a computer instead. In other words, simply attach your phone to a monitor and keyboard, and watch it turn into a desktop computer, running the full regular version of Ubuntu, so you can say goodbye to your big, old, clunky desktop.
According to Shuttleworth, Ubuntu has already been proven to work on desktops, and is set to be at the heart of the next wave of popular consumer electronics. He has also claimed that Ubuntu is defining a new era of convergence in technology, with one unified operating system that encompasses cloud computing, data centers, PCs and consumer electronics. It is no coincidence that the latest user interface and shell environment Canonical has developed for Ubuntu is called “Unity.”
Ubuntu Phone is so similar to the desktop version that all desktop applications run natively on the phone. The platform also aims to let web applications like Facebook live in your desktop and run seamlessly. Essentially, you wouldn’t know the difference between a website and an installed application.
Of course, not all phones will be powerful enough to act as a full PC. Jane Silber, CEO of Canonical Ltd., says Ubuntu will still be an attractive option. “We see an opportunity in basic smartphones that are used for the phone, SMS, web and email, where Ubuntu outperforms thanks to its native core apps and stylish presentation,” Silber said in a press release. “Native apps” here means that applications can be developed directly for Ubuntu itself and run without a Java overhead, which Android uses. This could mean that they will run faster and use fewer resources.
Currently, the OS is not available for end-users, with proper Ubuntu phones promised for early 2014. Until then, a downloadable version for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is supposed to be coming out sometime this February for the early adopters out there. According to Shuttleworth, any phone that runs Android should be able to run Ubuntu Phone. Keep an eye on http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/phone for more information and updates.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of January 22nd, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.