Just when you thought the mobile-device market was too overcrowded for another operating system, Canonical has announced an upcoming version of the open-source Ubuntu for smartphones. However, it still needs to convince manufacturers to build devices for the software. The new platform is separate from Canonical’s Ubuntu for Android, which allows higher-end Android devices to run Ubuntu.
System requirements for an entry-level Ubuntu smartphone include a 1 GHz Cortex A9 processor, between 512 MB and 1 GB of memory, and multi-touch capability. A high-end Ubuntu “superphone” requires a quad-core A9 or Intel Atom processor, a minimum of 1 GB memory, and both multi-touch and desktop convergence support. Indeed, Canonical is touting the latter as a “convergence device,” capable of operating with equal facility as a smartphone and (via a thin-client dock) as a full-fledged PC.
Canonical is trying to sweeten the deal for potential manufacturers by touting Ubuntu’s endless customization options. Based on Debian Linux, Ubuntu is already popular as a desktop-and-laptop distribution, which means it’s familiar to many developers. The Ubuntu smartphone platform will allow HTML5 and native apps; Web apps can run independently of the browser, with full access to system resources. Canonical’s Ubuntu One personal cloud service offers free storage and integrated identity management.
“We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions. Ubuntu is already the most widely used Linux enterprise desktop, with customers in a wide range of sectors focused on security, cost and manageability” Jane Silber, CEO of Canonical, wrote in a Jan. 2 statement. “We also see an opportunity in basic smartphones that are used for the phone, SMS, web and email, where Ubuntu outperforms thanks to its native core apps and stylish presentation.”
Canonical supports Ubuntu worldwide, making its money from consulting and support.
Ubuntu faces a variety of challenges if it wants to make an impact in the mobile market. First, other mobile operating systems have lived and died by the size of their respective app stores; Ubuntu will need third-party developers ready and willing to design thousands of apps for the platform. Second, Canonical will need to do all it can to avoid fragmentation among Ubuntu phone manufacturers. Third, Canonical will need to succeed where other manufacturers have failed—by convincing large corporations that a mobile “convergence device” is indeed the way of the future.