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In depth interview: Ubuntu Touch aims to learn from Android's mistakes

Posted: , by Michael H.

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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. 

In depth interview: Ubuntu Touch aims to learn from Android's mistakes

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.

We assume that some of the operators are going to want to have their own music store, so we have this nice mechanism that makes it very easy using the APIs provided to easily tie in a back-end service like that and pull it into the user experience. That's mainly what they care about and it's not something they can really do today. The design here is all about search and exposing that content directly in the main view there. 

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.

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posted on 30 May 2013, 09:15 17

1. meyy91 (Posts: 7; Member since: 15 Mar 2013)

Another contestant in d race of smartphones..!! Good luck UBUNTU..! :)

posted on 30 May 2013, 11:00 8

15. gmracer1 (Posts: 646; Member since: 28 Dec 2012)

In "d" race? Modern language has become dreadful.

posted on 31 May 2013, 18:11

39. kozza3 (Posts: 702; Member since: 17 Oct 2012)

get over it, people are going to speak/type the way the they are comfortable speaking/typing... most of the online community doesn't care anyways

"language - the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community" - merriam-webster

posted on 30 May 2013, 09:25 19

2. rahulz (Posts: 117; Member since: 25 Feb 2013)

Ubuntu seems very promising
and user interface looks so coool..

posted on 30 May 2013, 10:30 8

10. mafiaprinc3 (Posts: 551; Member since: 07 May 2012)

it does look beautiful

posted on 30 May 2013, 09:35 8

3. sonisoe (Posts: 416; Member since: 06 May 2009)

why cant stock android look this beautiful.. other newcomers tizen and jolla are also beautiful

posted on 30 May 2013, 09:43 9

5. Jason2k13 (Posts: 1216; Member since: 28 Mar 2013)

the beauty about android is... you can make it beautiful or ugly... the power of customisation.

posted on 30 May 2013, 14:17 4

23. josephnero (Posts: 558; Member since: 16 Nov 2011)

Download ubuntu UCCW theme from playstore and get exactly this look.android FTW

posted on 05 Jun 2013, 18:10

45. Zero0 (Posts: 592; Member since: 05 Jul 2012)

In my opinion, Android is the second best looking mobile OS (behind Windows Phone 7-8). Relatively minimalistic, I like the card motif, it just looks good. Not that Ubuntu isn't nice looking, but I don't put it on the same level as Android 4.x and WP7.

posted on 30 May 2013, 09:38 6

4. PhoneArenaUser (Posts: 5498; Member since: 05 Aug 2011)

Michael, thank you for another great, full-scale article, your articles are the best in PhonePrena.com. :)

posted on 30 May 2013, 09:46 1

7. PhoneArenaUser (Posts: 5498; Member since: 05 Aug 2011)


posted on 31 May 2013, 18:12

40. kozza3 (Posts: 702; Member since: 17 Oct 2012)

what a freaking LOSER!!!

im just kidding! :P

posted on 30 May 2013, 09:45 1

6. yowanvista (Posts: 340; Member since: 20 Sep 2011)

Ubuntu Phone is an absolute abomination. They took Android and stripped off a lot of stuff including the Dalvik VM but the core of Ubuntu Phone is STILL Android, the services and everything at the hardware level and even the kernel is still Android. So Ubuntu Phone is just some pile of crap using forked CyanogenMod modules and running on top of Android.


"Ubuntu is running in a separated container on top of an Android kernel and services"

posted on 30 May 2013, 10:21 7

8. bart7773 (Posts: 7; Member since: 04 Oct 2009)

On the last page of this article (Hardware section) the comments were made regarding the use of the Android kernel and hardware layer

"The kernel is a bit of a hybrid at this point. It's an Android kernel to some extent, but it's got all the Ubuntu configuration. In order to get it to work on the hardware, we don't have access to a lot of the source code for all the hardware drivers; so, we have to run the Android binaries to get these devices to work. The binaries that are built for Android are not compatible with binaries you would build for Ubuntu; so, we have to do this mapping layer to help the communication."

Makes sense to me that this would have to be the case until Canonical can get their hands on the majority of the source code.

posted on 30 May 2013, 10:42 6

12. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2705; Member since: 26 May 2011)

As Bart said, the kernel is a modified Android kernel, yes some services are Android as well, because right now Ubuntu Touch only runs on Android hardware, so those services are needed to make it work. Once the hardware is made specifically for Ubuntu, all of the Android pieces will be stripped out.

posted on 30 May 2013, 17:29

30. Suo.Eno (Posts: 505; Member since: 17 Feb 2013)

Well not necessarily specifically but at least a proper reference phone + tablet. This is precisely where I feel that Canonical/Ubuntu are still failing at, that they should have reached out to OEMs 1st the way FF did w/ their OS. See how seemingly out of the blue a few OEMs came out w/ some FF OS phones.

posted on 30 May 2013, 18:29

32. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2705; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Yes, and you've seen all of the interest and media coverage Firefox OS has generated with its strategy.

Canonical is in talks with manufacturers to release Ubuntu devices, but in the meantime, it wants to get the platform out into the hands of developers. There's no performance hit; so, what's the harm in making it easy to put the OS on Android devices?

posted on 30 May 2013, 12:11

20. ianbbaa (Posts: 305; Member since: 20 Mar 2013)

i thought that Dalvik VM makes the so called "lag" on android...so is it good that they removed it or bad???

posted on 30 May 2013, 17:30

31. Suo.Eno (Posts: 505; Member since: 17 Feb 2013)

It's only good if there's already a working and more streamlined solution but as it stands there's no productive results to be gained yet.

posted on 30 May 2013, 10:22 2

9. threed61 (Posts: 207; Member since: 27 May 2011)

Very nice article! I like Ubuntu a lot, but I wonder if they'll ever convince OEM's of the need for a second Linux mobile platform when Android is already widely accepted.

posted on 30 May 2013, 10:33

11. jellmoo (Posts: 1696; Member since: 31 Oct 2011)

"For example, while Linux Mint was born as a fork of Ubuntu, it has really only attracted the small faction of users that refused to accept the Unity interface, and not much more."

Wait... what??? Since there is little verifiable info regarding distro install base, this statement is way off. Head over to Distrowatch and take a look at the hits per distro and you will see Mint as way higher than Ubuntu. Now, I'm not saying that this is a completely accurate indicator, and Ubuntu does likely have the higher use base, but I think you aren't quite acknowledging the true popularity Mint has, which predates the Unity interface.

posted on 30 May 2013, 10:45

13. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2705; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Sorry, I should have linked this:http://www.statowl.com/operating_system_market_share_by_os_version.php?limit%5B%5D=linux

posted on 30 May 2013, 13:19

21. jellmoo (Posts: 1696; Member since: 31 Oct 2011)

It's definitely a viable metric, but I don't think it really gives the whole picture as it is a tracking a single item. This article helps to illustrate how tracking distro user base is incredibly difficult:


posted on 30 May 2013, 14:17

24. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2705; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Understood. I edited the article for clarity. Thanks!

posted on 30 May 2013, 10:57 4

14. zekes (Posts: 229; Member since: 14 Aug 2012)

ok android sit down now

posted on 30 May 2013, 11:16

16. bart7773 (Posts: 7; Member since: 04 Oct 2009)

Ubuntu could offer consumers another viable option that will also help keep the market competitive. The concept that this type of device could be powerful enough to truly become a mobile AND functional desktop platform is extremely appealing. Above all though the device and its use must be solid, quick, versitile, and intuitive. I'm exicted to see where this goes and, if success is in the cards, how this might help others in the industry evolve further.

posted on 30 May 2013, 11:53

17. geodude074 (Posts: 99; Member since: 05 Mar 2013)

Is there a Ubuntu app store?

If so, how many apps are available on it?

Just because an OS looks pretty and is functional, doesn't mean it's going to win consumers over (read: Windows 8). The app selection is critical in the success of an OS.

What's the point of flashing Ubuntu on a tablet if there aren't any apps to go along with it?

posted on 30 May 2013, 15:58 2

25. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2705; Member since: 26 May 2011)

There is the Ubuntu Software Centre for desktops (https://apps.ubuntu.com/cat/), which will eventually house the apps for mobile (of course the apps for mobile will work on desktops as well, so it's unclear how it will be organized).

I can't say how many apps are available, but there are quite a lot for desktops. I haven't yet found anything that I wanted that didn't exist for Ubuntu in one form or another. And, since the plan is to give developers easy tools to update apps to support mobile, it shouldn't be too big of an issue.

Keep in mind, while Windows 8 was something completely different from what came before, so developers had to learn a completely new design language. Ubuntu isn't changing that radically, it's just adding a few new screen sizes to the mix, the underlying code is still the same.

posted on 31 May 2013, 05:50

33. taikucing (unregistered)

*cough cough*

Steam for linux

*cough cough*

posted on 30 May 2013, 11:56 2

18. jackhammeR (Posts: 1548; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)

Great article. The rest in PA should learn from M. Haller.
Great job mr. Haller.

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