Scopes are the key feature that Canonical is betting on to give manufacturers the control they want while still offering users a consistent UI, and the idea is an extremely compelling one. For those who haven’t used Ubuntu, a main part of the Unity UI is the Dash, which is essentially a universal search box that can draw content from a number of sources, which are organized by data type tabs, called Lenses. Each Lens draws content from a dedicated engine, called a Scope.
For example, when you type something into the Dash, it will display the results in standard Lenses for apps, documents, video, music, photos, and social messages, but each Lens is pulling content from a number of Scopes. So, the apps Lens will give results for apps that are installed on your device, and also apps available in the Ubuntu Software Center. The music Lens can show results from your local files as well as services like Amazon and Spotify. Additional Lenses can be added along with new Scopes, so a News Lens could display content pulled from Scopes for Google News and more. And, with a new back-end feature called Smart Scopes, which is coming as part of the October Ubuntu 13.10 update, results will become more contextual and will pull content from the most relevant Scopes based on your search terms.
The interesting part to Scopes is that the entire system is pluggable, meaning any service can hook into it, and thus almost any content can be surfaced. On a user level, this means that your Google Drive files can be surfaced just as if it were a local file, or other services like Spotify and even The Pirate Bay can be hooked in to make the barrier between you and the content you want as thin as possible.
But, on a manufacturer level, this allows for a huge amount of customization of content, while still providing the same consistent Ubuntu UI that users would expect. For example, rather than making a separate Music or Video store like it has on Android devices, Samsung could simply have its content plug into the Dash by using a Scope. Or, rather than creating a complete fork with a new skin like the Kindle Fire, Amazon could have all of its digital content - music, video, and books - as well as its physical goods exposed through a Scope in the Dash.
Surfacing content becomes extremely easy using Scopes; and, that is the key, because while the Dash and the Scopes tabs are essentially a universal search box in the desktop iteration of Unity, the Dash is your entire homescreen in Ubuntu Touch. So, the content being pulled in isn’t hidden away in an app, but prominently displayed as large, image-heavy pages front and center on your device.
And, the number of Scopes available is expected to explode soon enough because of the One Hundred Scopes initiative, which not only aims to make it easier to create a Scope, but will add 100 new Scopes, including Soundcloud, Grooveshark, IMDb, deviantART, GitHub, Yelp, eBay, Foursquare, etsy, and more.