Canonical announces Ubuntu Phone OS coming in early 2014


We had heard a couple days ago that Canonical was planning to ring in the New Year with an announcement of a new Ubuntu product. At the time, we were under the impression that the event was going to be a product release, not just an announcement, so we were prepping to hear about Ubuntu for Android. But, today's event turned out to be an announcement, not a release, and the announcement was for Ubuntu for phones, which will be released in early 2014.

Hardware

This falls in line with previous comments by Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, who said that the work to put Ubuntu on phones and tablets should be done in time for the release of Ubuntu 14.04 in April 2014, and it has been confirmed that 14.04 will be a universal OS that can run on mobile devices and traditional PCs alike. In the announcement today, Shuttleworth said that Ubuntu for phones had been designed from the ground up to offer a "crisper, sharper" experience on low-end phones. He expects these low-end phones to drive adoption, much like Ubuntu's Linux-based cousin, Android. Ubuntu will have a "lean mode" which would run well on a device with an A9 ARM processor and 1GB RAM, and a "heavy mode" for high-end hardware. Shuttleworth says that Ubuntu will also target emerging markets (which is a big opportunity) by offering a "less complex" user experience than the competition. 

Canonical will also target enterprise markets and high-end markets by converging Ubuntu on mobile and traditional desktops creating a hybrid system that we've seen in the demos of Ubuntu for Android, so your phone will be able to double as your PC if you have the right docking station. No word yet on hardware partners, if any, that will be making the Ubuntu phones. But, Canonical says that "Ubuntu is compatible with a typical Android Board Support Package (BSP). This means Ubuntu is ready to run on the most cost-efficient chipset designs." And, for all you modders out there, Canonical has promised images that can be installed on a Galaxy Nexus to be released within the next few weeks.

Software

In the demo showing off the phone, Shuttleworth showed how that "less complex" experience may look. For instance, an Ubuntu phone won't have a lock screen, but rather a "welcome screen" which will be personally tailored to you and the information you want. Ubuntu will also supposedly offer more screen space for apps than other platforms. Lastly, Shuttleworth said that the team has "invited a way to use an app without having to use buttons at all via a voice-controlled ‘HUD’", which will also be found in the upcoming desktop version 13.04, due in April. 

As you can see in the trailer below, Ubuntu for phones uses a ton of gestures to navigate the OS, including pulling the Unity bar from the left to access app shortcuts. Swiping down from the top will bring various options like a unified Messaging tray, sound options, battery info, and connectivity settings by swiping from each icon at the top. Swiping from right to left will cycle through open apps. It's also easy to see the features the phone shares with the desktop environment like the Dash search. No word yet on what to expect from the app ecosystem, but that info usually wouldn't start filtering out until we get closer to release. But, the OS will support native apps as well as Web apps and HTML5 apps.  

Apps will be made available through The Ubuntu Software Centre, and Canonical has confirmed that it will allow "customization options for partner apps, content, and services. Operators and OEMs can easily add their own branded offerings." Canonical also says that it will try to keep a unified system, even though the OS will be open source by offering "engineering services to offload the complexity of maintaining multiple code bases… freeing the manufacturer to focus on hardware design and integration." But, it's unclear exactly how that will work out in practice.  

A QML toolkit and application SDK are expected to be released soon to help devs get started on building apps for the platform. Ubuntu is looking to distance itself from Android and the troubles Google had with Oracle by removing the Java virtual machine from the equation. According to Canonical, this also means that "all core applications run at full native speeds with a small memory footprint."

Conclusion

Overall, Ubuntu for phones looks really nice, and we're definitely excited about getting our hands on the early images to test it out. The only concerns right now are in 3rd party support. Canonical has the support of ARM and the makers of the Qt application framework, but no word on support from hardware manufacturers, even those who have traditionally supported Ubuntu, like Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo, but to be fair, none of those companies are really in the smartphone market. 

The other big question surrounding Ubuntu for phones is what we should expect from it as far as market penetration. Without support of hardware manufacturers, the OS will be relegated to enthusiasts, but there is enough in the system that it could get hardware support. If it does get hardware support, it's as yet unclear if the software side can offer enough to make a push in the Android/iOS dominated market. But, we definitely think that aiming for emerging markets is a good start. 


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82 Comments

1. hltechie unregistered

This looks awesome

65. MeoCao unregistered

Looks great, if it runs smoothly on average phones then the future is bright.

2. ilia1986 unregistered

Looks great. THIS is how you do a genuinely creative UI. Wonder how it will run on my GS3 :D

3. Aeires unregistered

Gah, was hoping for a dual boot Android/Ubuntu combo. A year is a long time to wait though. Wonder what changes it'll undergo in 2013 for the 2014 launch?

15. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I'd say a converged phone/desktop system is better than a dual boot option. The hands-on that I've seen actually looks really good. There is definitely optimization to be done, but the OS itself looks pretty complete. Now, it's just a matter of getting apps on it.

39. gwuhua1984

Posts: 1237; Member since: Mar 06, 2012

Just saw their web site information on Android to Ubuntu. Integrating Ubuntu to Android sound good.

42. Aeires unregistered

I was more interested in using Android for phone purposes but having the ability to dock it with a monitor to use the Ubuntu resources. Main reason I was hoping the Padfone would come to T-Mobile, the docking ability is a big advantage.

54. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Ubuntu for Android will still exist for users like you.

64. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2340; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

Michael, wouldn't this be the same as the Meego OS where you could port Android apps over? If that's the case then the apps you have come to know in Android should be able to work on Ubuntu as well. Also, with the Tizen and Firefox OS' coming out, those applications may be able to be used on this OS as well. At least that's what I would think.

67. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Certainly didn't help Meego all that much. Microsoft also offered an easy way to port Android apps to WP and that didn't really work all that well. Native development is always better.

69. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2340; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

Well, the problem with Meego was Nokia dropping it without giving it much of a chance and going straight to Windows Phone. So, I wouldn't really say that the app development was the problem with Meego, but instead it was the lack of support from a hardware developer. I would look towards the success or failure of Tizen as a real indicator of what Meego could have been since it seems that Samsung and Intel are committed to the platform. Also, the "easy way to port" Android apps to Windows Phone was found out to be not that easy just because of how different the two OS' APIs were. I would think that Android, Ubuntu, and Tizen would have such similar APIs that this wouldn't be a problem.

72. saied

Posts: 10; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

Correct me if I'm wrong but "Ubuntu on android" had access to android apps quite natively BTW is that now scrapped?

80. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Ubuntu for Android will still exist. Shuttleworth is hoping that will help people get used to the idea of converging mobile and traditional PCs before Ubuntu phones come out.

23. hellt1M

Posts: 20; Member since: Oct 10, 2012

they said canonical will be releasing an image of this beast within the next few weeks! :D

24. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Yes sir, and I'm loading it on my old Galaxy Nexus the minute it happens!

4. bxbomber718

Posts: 15; Member since: Dec 13, 2010

Wow...I'm impressed. Now only if I can get that on my Nexus 4....

5. saied

Posts: 10; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

Can it run programs compiled for Debian?

18. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I'm wondering the same, but given that the plan is to make Ubuntu 14.04 universal, and to use the Ubuntu Software Centre, I'm going to assume that the answer is yes.

44. shuaibhere

Posts: 1986; Member since: Jul 07, 2012

Then I'm leaving android for this...don't get me wrong guys...I still love android..but I can't afford to buy two smartphones at a time..

6. Synack

Posts: 688; Member since: Jul 05, 2011

Make this run on the iPhone6 lol. That way people can finally have a good OS to go along with the only 2 good things the iPhone has; camera and battery life.

11. nwright94 unregistered

Their gpu and CPU is great too, still matching and even beating current high end phones. I would LOVE this OS on my 5.

22. hellt1M

Posts: 20; Member since: Oct 10, 2012

go away...

30. nwright94 unregistered

For posting facts? I'm really hating how this website is becoming an android only website, you guys don't accept people with different OS preferences. There's this wonderful website called androidcentral.com where you won't have to see comments from windows phone, iPhone, or blackberry users. If you hold so much animosity against non android users, why do you even go on a website that reports a variety of news? So how about you go away.

50. ama3654

Posts: 295; Member since: Nov 27, 2012

Yeah with a less than HD display and 4 inch screen

51. PhoneArenaUser

Posts: 5498; Member since: Aug 05, 2011

"I would LOVE this OS on my 5." You can be sure in 100% that Apple won't allow it! Also why you want to use Ubuntu Phone OS instead instead of iOS, unhappy with iOS?

52. nwright94 unregistered

It's not that I'm unhappy, it gets the job done, but it's a bit stale. This looks very fresh and while I don't hate it and bash on it, I'm not a fan of android, it's just not my cup or tea. And I know apple wouldn't allow it, just wishful thinking :)

53. nwright94 unregistered

Not all iPhone users think everything about it is perfect. I've just gotten my second replacement for a bad power button. Being away from home in college, FaceTime and iMessage are a big help with staying in touch with my parents so that's my main reason of using it.

55. PhoneArenaUser

Posts: 5498; Member since: Aug 05, 2011

Ok, I see.

7. chrischau1308

Posts: 53; Member since: Feb 28, 2012

This is absolutely beautiful!!!! OMG, is there any other mobile OS that I miss? Blackberry 10, Android Jelly Bean, Jolla Snailfish, Windows Phone 8, iOS, Symbian, Tizen, Bada, now Ubuntu Phone OS, OMG what else????? This is so exciting !!!!!

8. tigermcm

Posts: 861; Member since: Sep 02, 2009

firefox

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