Ubuntu launches on mobile

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical – the firm behind Ubuntu – has announced the Linux distribution is to move into mobile, shipping on handsets by late 2013. Tablets will follow.

Speaking in London at the launch event, Shuttleworth emphasised Ubuntu’s place as the world’s 3rd largest operating system highlighting the distribution by some of the world’s largest PC vendors, Ubuntu’s dominance of cloud platforms and recent moves to the platform by big-name game developers such as EA.

In April the firm refreshed Ubuntu’s user interface, adding support for smart TVs. Today that new interface has been shown off scaling to smartphone and tablet devices. The OS was demonstrated running on Google Nexus devices, but these are just in-use for testing – the firm plans to partner with network operators and well-known hardware manufacturers (similar to Android’s model) although they admitted none have signed-up ‘yet’.

Shuttleworth acknowledged the firm faced “a challenge” in the competitive world of mobile and outlined two propositions:

  • A ‘lean’ smartphone for ‘starter’ users or ‘low-end’ hardware. 30% of smartphones are only used for their basic built-in functions. Ubuntu will be faster, more elegant and more efficient he claimed (it doesn’t use a Java ‘virtual machine’ as  Android does).
  • A ‘superphone’. A new category of device that has the power to drive more than just a mobile experience. Superphones will appeal to power-users and enterprise users where they can be docked as ‘thin clients’.

Competing platforms, Shuttleworth claimed, don’t scale as well across such a diversity of hardware. They are, however, using a kernel drivers from Android that will allow them to access much existing hardware.

Addressing the issue of developers, Ubuntu will support a full range of HTML5 applications. However, native apps are also given equal billing and a development environment will be launched this week. Native Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps, Gmail and Spotify will ship as native apps form day one.</p><p>Taking questions, Shuttleworth commented that users will be able to install Ubuntu on existing handsets they own&nbsp;(a build for Google Nexus is coming in ‘about’ 3 weeks), but emphasised Canonical’s desire to ship with the OS pre-installed.

It’s worth noting that Ubuntu have previously announced ‘Ubuntu for Android‘ which offers an Ubuntu desktop from a docked Android handset – this is an interim step for ‘converged devices’ but not the same as the pure OS announced today.

By Ben Smith

Ben is an expert on enterprise mobility and wireless data products. He has been a regular contributor to Mobile Industry Review since 2007 and is also editor of Wireless Worker.

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