Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ubuntu Phone

If you are fan of Linux and Ubuntu just like I am, then there is some good news. Canonical is expanding the world's favorite linux-based operating system to smartphones, hence Ubuntu phone.


Watch the industry proposition with Mark Shuttleworth (founder of Canonical), talking about the latest achivements and introducing Ubuntu phone.


And a little hands-on review at CES2013 with Engadget, see Ubuntu in action.

 

Mobile Operating Systems

For the past years Android and iOS have been competing with each other and the users didn't have much a choice, it was either or (unfortunately RIM's BlackBerry OS is declining, although it is a very nice platform, and Symbian is almost totally disappeared). It is no secret that back in the day when the first iPhone came out it was aimed at the everyday customers who needed ease of use above all. Then came Android, the open-source system that has filled in the gap created by the very restricted iPhone and has experienced exponential growth and is still expanding. Both systems are user-friendly and preference over one or the other is purely a personal matter.
Then came Windows phone that has brought competition into the battle between the two major systems. It has received positive reviews and indeed is a very nice platform that is responsive and easy to use.
Canonical's Ubuntu however, will surely be a game changer and bring another refreshment in the field. They have taken their time and learned through the years to finally come up with a brilliant system, that is different from what we have seen so far from any mobile operating systems.
For those who have used Ubuntu before, many features will look familiar like the Unity interface, but those who are new to the operating system should not worry either as it is a very clean and pleasant user experience.

 

Use 100% Of Your Screen

On a desktop machine place (in terms of display) is not an issue - especially in Linux where you can have multiple virtual desktops providing almost unlimited space for a range of programs - on a phone however it is crucial. Screen size is limited to a few inches and although Android tries to utilize this place - similarly to Linux - with multiple home pages, the menu elements and application features are often taking away a large percent of the already small available place. Ubuntu will bring a huge change in this field as all 4 edges of the screen will have different tasks assigned to them and also offers to hide the menu by default and show it only when necessary.
Use the full capacity of the screen, open menus only when needed (Ubuntu.com)

A touch on the left edge of the screen will show the most recently used applications that allows to quickly launch what you need. No more going to home screen, scrolling through apps until you find what you need, no. It is just 1 touch away. Alternatively if you make a faster swipe from the left you will be presented to the home page where your currently running applications are show along with the installed as well as downloadable applications. Everything in one place, to let you use what you need and not look for it.

The top of the screen holds the different status icons like signal, battery life, messages and volume which is common on the smartphone operating systems. However Ubuntu allows you to directly access these by simply touching them and pulling the menu down. No mater what are you doing on your phone, these settings are available any time without interrupting you. Messages are the same. All messages are accessible from the top of the display while using any other application. Without the need to close or change the application or go back to the menu and look for the messages.
Touching the bottom of the screen brings you up the applications menu. This is similar to Android systems, but by default this menu is hidden to allow you utilizing 100% of your phone's screen. It is not necessary to sacrifice 10-20% of your screen when you are scanning through photos. Touch the bottom of the screen and you can edit or share the picture on your favorite social media site with just one click.

Multitasking has always been a core part of Ubuntu (see multiple virtual desktops) and this is not changing in the Ubuntu phone either. Swiping from the right side of the screen brings you back to the previous application you were using.

 

Applications

Applications or "Apps" are usually reachable through some sort of Application Store. Now for a long time Ubuntu Desktop has had this feature, providing an enormous amount of software available in their Software Centre. The same which will be available on the Ubuntu phone! Whats more, since this is a truly open source platform, anybody can contribute to this store and develop applications. In fact there is already a software package published by Canonical for this purpose at ubuntu.com. I am sure that the open source community will prove itself and cause an explosive growth of applications for the Ubuntu phone even before actual devices start shipping. I see a huge potential in the Software Centre and I believe that over time this will grow to be one of the dominant advantages over other mobile operating systems. 

 

Availability

Although there are some working models already, unfortunately we have to wait until the end of this year or possibly until early next year to see Ubuntu phones showing up on the phone market. However there will be Ubuntu phone packages available to download before this time to allow Ubuntu fans to re-flash their Android phones to their favorite operating system. 

 

Supported Phones

Canonical was at CES 2013 and is still in the process of consulting with manufacturers to ship their phones preloaded with Ubuntu. It is a new platform so it might be risky, but it also has huge benefits. At CES 2013 Ubuntu was shown smoothly running on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but it is said that it will be compatible with most Android devices. This means that even if the phone comes originally with Android, it can be re-flashed later on to Ubuntu. This versatility opens up a huge market where Canonical can spread their new operating system, not talking about all those who will replace their Android systems as soon as the Ubuntu package will be available.

 

One Device To Replace Them All

The idea behind the uniformity across Ubuntu devices (Desktop, TV, tablet and now the phone) is that sooner or later one device could replace the others. 20 years ago there were mostly only robust desktop computers, later these were replaced by lightweight, portable notebooks and in the recent years the smartphone industry has seen an explosive success. As smartphones are getting faster and stronger with better processors and video cards in them, more onboard memory and storage, they indeed are computers already. So what is stopping anyone from taking an Ubuntu phone, docking it at home, connecting a wireless mouse and keybord along with a screen and use it as a regular desktop? This could be done already and this surely is the future. There will come a point where it will be unnecessary (or pointless) to buy separate computers for home use, the smartphones will be powerful enough to replace them.
Dock your powerful Ubuntu phone to turn it into your Desktop  (Ubuntu.com)

 

Summary

All I can say that I am very much looking forward to this new smartphone operating system and I am sure there are many others who feel the same way. All the awesome features of Ubuntu, the security of Linux squezzed into my handheld computer.
The phone is targeted at the average user and the aim was to make a clean design and an easy to use interface. However, what I personally would like to see are all the functionality of my Ubuntu desktop in the phone. I would like to be able to access the terminal for example, the file system of my phone, be able to install packages just like I am doing now with apt-get and so on. I do not see why these function should not be available, in fact I am almost certain that this open source platform will provide full access to phone features so that it can then be truly used as computers and not as smartphones.

Update: Ubuntu phone will come with a Terminal application!

Learn more at www.ubuntu.com

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