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

Posted: , by Michael H.


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App development

While Scopes will go a long way to bringing various types of content to your Ubuntu device, you will obviously still want apps to handle that content. As we mentioned earlier, the Core apps for Ubuntu Touch are being developed by the Community, but Canonical is also working to attract developers to bring more apps to the platform. 

McGowan says that the platform has already been building steam in that regard, and has been bringing in developers who don’t normally develop for Ubuntu. There have already been a number of apps from developers who had been working on Android and MeeGo, and best of all the apps are mostly written in Ubuntu’s native Qt code rather than HTML5. 

In depth interview: Ubuntu Touch aims to learn from Android's mistakes
Not surprisingly, a lot of the work in this regard is still in the future. Right now, Canonical’s focus is on getting the OS software ready, and work is still being done to sort out a lot of the details for app development, like the tools and documentation to help developers port apps. But, McGowan is clear that while Canonical wants the process to be easy, the apps need to become Ubuntu apps.

It's our goal that a developer with an Android app can easily bring it to Ubuntu, so we're working to define how we make that as easy as we can. It's probably some combination of us supporting a similar API set and a lot of it could be good documentation. It's not our intention to let an Android app run as is. It needs to become an Ubuntu app, but we want to make that process to be really easy.

That's the stated goal is to make it easy, but not automatic. An Android app in this user experience is not going to be right. There has to be at least enough effort by the developer to say, ‘There, now it looks like an Ubuntu app and it behaves along the model that you guys have specified.’ And, we want to make that work all they have to do. 

The tools are also on the way to really allow for the “write once, run everywhere” plan for apps. Because Ubuntu Touch is really the same OS as Ubuntu for desktops, the plan is to allow developers to write their apps once, and the app will be able to scale as needed between the different screens. 

Once you see the operating system can run on all the different platforms, if you're an application developer, you can write it once for all those targets. It's pretty compelling. That's the secret sauce I think. It's the thing that's unique about what we're doing versus what you know like Apple is doing. They're definitely a thought leader though.

So, an app can be written with the phone layout and screen size in mind, and scale up to a 7” tablet. But, when it gets to a larger screen, the developer will be able to choose whether to have the app continue with the phone layout and be displayed in the Side Stage on a 10” tablet, take on a larger layout, or give the user the choice between the two.

App permissions and approval process

There is also work to be done to sort out nagging problems like app permissions, and the Software Centre approval process. Again, he makes it clear that the details are not yet set, but he gives some indication as to where the conversation is going, including the possibility of having permissions surface on a case-by-case basis for certain functions

If you want it to scale, you can't necessarily touch and test every application, so I expect we'll have ways so if there's a bad apple out there, there's a way to disable it, stop it from propagating. I think early on, we'll probably do a fair amount of oversight and validation, but over time as it scales up. My understanding is that we'd like to avoid something like [Apple's approval process]. It's understandable why they do it, you want to have that quality. 

The design will support application isolation inherently, so we will have that as part of the system design. We've spent some time thinking about this whole permissions thing when you install an app that says, ‘Can I do these 92 bad things?’ And you say, ‘Sure,’ because why else are you installing it? That's not really useful for people. We're trying to do a nice compromise that makes sense. We'll provide some inherent isolation and then some reasonable user interface that says, ‘This is about to access your contacts information. Is that what you wanted?’ For certain restricted things, permissions will probably pop up as needed, and then you'll one time say, ‘Yeah, I'm okay with that.’

It's a difficult problem to do well. Certain things will be very restricted, and only system applications will be able to do that. And, that could be part of the approval process too, where if an app comes in and it's not asking for anything special in its manifest, it's good. If it's asking for access to the contacts and phone dialing, let's take another look at that application and put it through another level of verification.

A lot of the work so far seems to be pointed at helping developers who want to bring Android apps over. McGowan is clear to say that Android apps will not be natively supported in Ubuntu Touch, but the links to Android are apparent because the early devices that support Ubuntu Touch are all Android hardware.

  • Options

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: 573; 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: 116; 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: 269; Member since: 07 May 2012)

it does look beautiful

posted on 30 May 2013, 09:35 8

3. sonisoe (Posts: 306; 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: 551; 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: 205; 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: 561; 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: 4600; 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: 4600; Member since: 05 Aug 2011)


posted on 31 May 2013, 18:12

40. kozza3 (Posts: 573; Member since: 17 Oct 2012)

what a freaking LOSER!!!

im just kidding! :P

posted on 30 May 2013, 09:45 1

6. yowanvista (Posts: 275; 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: 6; 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: 2614; 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: 84; 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: 2614; 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: 194; 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: 84; 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: 116; 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: 447; 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: 2614; 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: 447; 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: 2614; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Understood. I edited the article for clarity. Thanks!

posted on 30 May 2013, 10:57 4

14. zekes (Posts: 201; Member since: 14 Aug 2012)

ok android sit down now

posted on 30 May 2013, 11:16

16. bart7773 (Posts: 6; 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: 67; 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: 2614; 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.

posted on 30 May 2013, 15:58

26. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2614; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Thanks! (last name is Heller) But, thanks!

posted on 30 May 2013, 11:58

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

I would be glad..and it would turn out quite funny if we're witnessing the successor of android.

posted on 30 May 2013, 14:15

22. skywalker4711 (Posts: 10; Member since: 21 Oct 2011)

My problem with this (from a designers perspective)... Ubuntu is gorgeous. Every app though is hideous.

posted on 30 May 2013, 16:00

27. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2614; Member since: 26 May 2011)

There are a fair number of apps that aim a bit more towards functionality rather than design, but I'd say it's oversimplifying to say that every app is hideous. There are quite a few bright spots, and more coming.

posted on 30 May 2013, 16:35

28. _PHug_ (Posts: 380; Member since: 11 Oct 2011)

1. If you want this to catch on in the mainstream you have to change the name.
It's unnecessarily complicated to spell and pronounce for the layman.

2. I don't know if there is room for another smartphone OS, outside of Android and IOS everyone else is scrambling for crumbs.

posted on 30 May 2013, 17:07 2

29. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2614; Member since: 26 May 2011)

1. It's phonetic, so it's quite easy to pronounce. And, it's no more strange to spell than something like Tizen, Panasonic, or Symbian. People can learn, it's not that hard.

2) Windows Phone has continually gained global market share. And, people said the same thing about Android when iOS dominated the market. If something compelling comes along, the market will make room.

posted on 31 May 2013, 07:59

34. frustyak (Posts: 109; Member since: 08 Mar 2010)

It looks great, but until it actually shows up on a phone it's vaporware.

posted on 31 May 2013, 08:49

35. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2614; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Vaporware, by definition, doesn't exist at all, and the main value of vaporware is for a large company (like Microsoft) to claim it is building something to disincentivize others from making that same product.

Ubuntu Touch can be installed on a number of devices right now and used as a limited daily driver, and it obviously isn't disincentivizing anyone since Firefox OS, Tizen, and Jolla are all on their way as well.

posted on 31 May 2013, 10:53

36. TritonForceX (Posts: 52; Member since: 27 Sep 2012)

I'm really excited about their phones to come out, coincidentally near the end of my current contract.

Ubuntu is close to stepping in to a great opportunity time-wise. It would have been really good if they could have capitalized on Windows 8's release, but they may still be able to play the angle I'm about to discuss.

Microsoft has had the market share of computers because of their software dependency. Most places run Windows because that's all they've heard about, so that's mostly what everyone developed for. That's left a lot of businesses and customers with a boat load of expensive Windows software, so it wasn't feasible to switch to another OS. That was actually the main argument about switching to Linux: the software wasn't there to justify switching. But with the release of Windows 8, they tried to shape themselves more like what Apple and Android have established, and are indirectly trying to force everyone to their NEW operating system.

In doing so, Microsoft has almost ended support for those older programs that made everyone rely on Windows. Windows RT only supports NEW apps. The Start Screen wants you to use the NEW apps developed for Win 8, the apps they've used to create their Windows Marketplace. With the exception of being able to switch back to the "classic" desktop for legacy applications in Windows 8, and the current support of Windows 7, Microsoft is deleting their cache of programs and are starting over from scratch application-wise. By closing down support for legacy applications, Microsoft is blowing themselves apart without realizing it.

What Ubuntu needs to do is to highlight this, highlight the inconsistencies between devices from Apple, Android, and Microsoft, then compare them directly to the advantages of Ubuntu.

Everyone has really started wanting a unified architecture since the whole "ecosystem" format of selling software has came about. I buy an app from Amazon, I don't have a computer to use it on. I buy an app for the iPhone, it doesn't scale right to the iPad, or it isn't readily available for a Macbook without some tweaking. I don't even think this isn't even something that Microsoft is supporting at the moment.

This is the main distinguishing feature that Ubuntu offers over the competition. The streamlined interface that goes from phone to tablet to computer to even TV. (Imagine the gaming possiblities, :) ). Plus, add in the factor that to work with ANY of the new OS's, new applications need to be developed. If you're going to have to create new programs anyway, why not go ahead and switch?

posted on 31 May 2013, 10:55

37. TritonForceX (Posts: 52; Member since: 27 Sep 2012)

In addition to this, the company is not really answering to stock forecasts or investors, it's privately funded, which is why it's taken this long to come out. And they have a VERY active developer community, as described in the article. Anyone is open to help out the project. Beta testing, coding, etc.

They've been working on this, and making it ready AND polished. They haven't been working on it half-assed to get it out before an investor deadline. They've been able to fly under the radar and observe what problems have plagued the major players. Now they have the ability to surface right in the middle of them and blow them away.

posted on 31 May 2013, 13:15

38. caryhartline (Posts: 3; Member since: 31 May 2013)

I can't wait to finally have a good implementation of a Linux phone.

posted on 03 Jun 2013, 02:29

42. cameogt (Posts: 88; Member since: 18 Oct 2012)

meh, Android-wannabe.

posted on 03 Jun 2013, 13:23

43. Dave_Granger (Posts: 6; Member since: 16 Nov 2012)

"The adoption of Unity did cause some dissidence in the user base, because some preferred the traditional desktop; but, despite that, Ubuntu has continued to grow, and is now one of the largest Linux distros around."

Before the switch to the awful Unity desktop, Ubuntu was the most popular Linux distro for PCs, since then it's been haemorrhaging users and has been overtaken by Mint.

posted on 05 Jun 2013, 18:18

46. Zero0 (Posts: 561; Member since: 05 Jul 2012)

Unity was a horrendous decision. It's a great tablet UI, even a decent netbook UI, but on full size laptops and desktops, it's bad for multitasking. I dropped Ubuntu 12.04 for Mint after using Unity for a few days; I couldn't take it.

Cinnamon is pretty good, though. A little resource hungry for my current taste, but it's usable.

posted on 04 Jun 2013, 02:57

44. itsdeepak4u2000 (Posts: 2099; Member since: 03 Nov 2012)

Great coverage & article by Michael H.

posted on 15 Jun 2013, 13:58

48. bwhiting (Posts: 146; Member since: 15 Jun 2013)

I want that just because it is promising and seems more customizable than Android

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