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Canonical announces Ubuntu Phone OS coming in early 2014

Posted: , by Michael H.

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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.


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.


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."


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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posted on 02 Jan 2013, 13:22 16

1. hltechie (unregistered)

This looks awesome

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 22:53 5

65. MeoCao (unregistered)

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

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 13:32 8

2. ilia1986 (unregistered)

Looks great. THIS is how you do a genuinely creative UI.

Wonder how it will run on my GS3 :D

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 13:49

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?

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 14:38 11

15. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 17:58 1

39. gwuhua1984 (Posts: 1237; Member since: 06 Mar 2012)

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

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 19:02

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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 20:24

54. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Ubuntu for Android will still exist for users like you.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 22:21

64. Dr.Phil (Posts: 1617; Member since: 14 Feb 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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 23:32

67. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 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.

posted on 03 Jan 2013, 00:11

69. Dr.Phil (Posts: 1617; Member since: 14 Feb 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.

posted on 03 Jan 2013, 02:31

72. saied (Posts: 10; Member since: 28 Dec 2012)

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

posted on 03 Jan 2013, 09:57

80. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 15:27 1

23. hellt1M (Posts: 20; Member since: 10 Oct 2012)

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

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 15:39 2

24. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 2011)

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

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 13:50 1

4. bxbomber718 (Posts: 15; Member since: 13 Dec 2010)

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

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 13:52 1

5. saied (Posts: 10; Member since: 28 Dec 2012)

Can it run programs compiled for Debian?

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 14:54 2

18. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2707; Member since: 26 May 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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 19:17 2

44. shuaibhere (Posts: 1986; Member since: 07 Jul 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..

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 14:01 3

6. Synack (Posts: 681; Member since: 05 Jul 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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 14:14 4

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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 15:25 2

22. hellt1M (Posts: 20; Member since: 10 Oct 2012)

go away...

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 16:53 7

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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 20:06 2

50. ama3654 (Posts: 295; Member since: 27 Nov 2012)

Yeah with a less than HD display and 4 inch screen

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 20:13

51. PhoneArenaUser (Posts: 5498; Member since: 05 Aug 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?

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 20:20 3

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 :)

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 20:21 3

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.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 20:28

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

Ok, I see.

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 14:05 1

7. chrischau1308 (Posts: 53; Member since: 28 Feb 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 !!!!!

posted on 02 Jan 2013, 14:07 4

8. tigermcm (Posts: 860; Member since: 02 Sep 2009)


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