Thursday, January 24, 2013

South Africa: Mobile Ubuntu - a Unix Powered Smartphone

Mark Shuttleworth, South African IT millionaire and Open Source Champion recently announced and demonstrated the planned release of the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system (OS) for smartphones. The Canonical boss revealed that future devices will not only run the new mobile OS, but will also boot the desktop variant of Ubuntu when docked to a keyboard, mouse and monitor. This would mean that you will literally be able to use your phone to power your PC.

It is planned that you would be able to install Ubuntu on most Android devices, and although it is a totally new OS (not just an Android skin), because it is built on Linux in the same way that Android is, there should be no problem installing it on modern Android phones.

Visually the phone interface is very clean and makes no use of permanent buttons, instead the system is totally gesture-based and different functions are triggered by swiping the phone from sides or top or bottom, similar to Windows 8. From an overall design perspective, Ubuntu looks to offer a pretty dynamic home screen experience that's quite a bit different to Windows Phone, Android, or iOS. It's focused more around recently used content - like contacts you've spoken to recently, music you've added, and apps you've used - rather than a static grid of content.

During his keynote address earlier this year, Shuttleworth continually referred to 'emerging' markets as the battleground on which an Ubuntu Phone would fight it out for impact... "It's this sector, the low-end, that the battle for the hearts, minds and hands of the less tech-savvy will take place."

However, while Canonical has plenty of experience hosting cloud-based services and app stores (a major hurdle for new entrants to the mobile space), it doesn't have a great track record in bringing physical products to market that use its software. Hopefully, application developers will take the lead in ensuring a stream of new and exciting applications.

So, although a low-cost platform has appeal for handset manufacturers, there's hardly a shortage of them to choose from right now, with Firefox OS and Tizen being the most recent examples of what can be achieved by fully embracing and supporting HTML5.

An Android alternative

Carolina Milanesi, mobile analyst at Gartner, feels that there is place in the marketplace for an alternative platform to Android.

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