Ubuntu‘s popularity has been on the rise for quite sometime now. I’ve been using Ubuntu in one form or another – starting with the desktop version and have since moved to it’s server platform – about 5 years now. Needless to say I was extremely excited to see Canonical’s announcement that they are bringing Ubuntu to Smartphones.
The most notable feature of the Ubuntu Smartphone is the fact that it has no navigation buttons. Everything is gesture based. This is paired up with Ubuntu’s Unity interface. The Unity interface is currently used on the Ubuntu desktop platform – which personally I have no interest in using – but with the reliance of gestures on the touchscreen interface I would definitely be willing to give it a try.
One sticking point with virtually all Android users is the inability, or excruciating slow process to be able to upgrade the OS version on their phones. They are typically marred with manufacturer and carrier restraints which makes availability of the OS updates spotty at best. Unless you root your phone and use a custom ROM then typically you are out of luck. Not so with Ubuntu. Mark Shuttleworth has stated that the OS will be upgradable without regards to phone’s model, manufacturer, or carrier. Before now this is unprecedented outside of Apple.
On the flip side cell phone carriers will be able to place their own customized apps on the phone but because these apps will live in the “user-space” rather than in the core operating system so they will not impede the OS update availability.
The Ubuntu Smartphone will be able to run programs that already exist and run on Ubuntu. This means that before launch Ubuntu for Smartphones has access to thousands of apps. This hasn’t been accomplished before by anyone without spending some massive amount of money to help attract developers. Alone, this simple fact just about sells me on the platform. Ubuntu applications might not be as bright and shiny as Windows or OS X programs but almost any kind of program that you could want already exists. It’s great to hear that new developers aren’t necessarily needed to help making Ubuntu a success in the smartphone market.
Games are a huge deal for any smartphone platform. Even though no one from Canonicall has said anything about this I do see some good indications that the Ubuntu Smartphone could leverage some big names down the line. One of them being Valve’s Steam service. Recently Steam has been making a big push to enter the Linux market. With the desktop application cross-functionality for the Ubuntu Smartphone, it would be a relatively easy jump for Valve to enter into the smartphone market and bring a wide variety of games to this platform. A game developer, publisher and distributor becoming the main channel to get games onto a new mobile platform, I can’t think of anyone else better suited for the job.
The more I see of the Ubuntu Smartphone platform the more impressed I am by it. Apple has been the big dog to beat for the past 6 years, but with the built-in community of users and developers that Ubuntu brings to the table gives Canonicall’s OS a good fighting chance in this seemingly flooded smartphone/tablet market.