Ubuntu on Tablets Announced

Fresh off debuting an Ubuntu smartphone operating system, Canonical is expanding its mobile presence with an Ubuntu tablet OS targeted at even larger touchscreens. The Touch Developer Preview of Ubuntu will arrive Feb. 21 with installation instructions for Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets; the Preview SDK will support tablet apps.

Canonical works with the open-source community to support Ubuntu worldwide, making money off its support offerings. It announced a version of Ubuntu for smartphones in January, following that up with a Preview SDK and App Design Guides for apps, in addition to a portfolio of documented templates.

The Ubuntu tablet interface offers multitasking, the ability to host multiple accounts on a single tablet with encryption for personal data, and a customizable home screen. There’s a Gallery app, which lets users organize and share photographs, along with a “HUD,” or Head’s Up Display, which streamlines workflows and options for applications; the latter comes with voice control. The software supports screen sizes from 6 inches up to 20 inches, along with resolutions from 100 to 450 pixels-per-inch.

Canonical is emphasizing how well its Ubuntu tablet interface can supposedly play with other software and hardware platforms. It is compatible with any Linux-oriented Board Support Package (BSP), and can offer a “full PC experience” when docked with a keyboard, including access to remote Windows applications over protocols such as Citrix and VMware. Canonical also claims that its four-year relationship with ARM has informed its design decisions, resulting in a tablet interface capable of smooth running on entry-level hardware.

That last bit is particularly important, as Canonical needs hardware partners if it wants its mobile Ubuntu vision to succeed. And therein lies the rub: for all its next-generation features and shiny interface, Canonical could have some trouble finding a manufacturer with the desire to give Ubuntu a mass-production shot.

Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry are firmly bonded to their own tablet operating systems; Motorola, as a wholly owned subsidiary of Google, probably won’t deviate from Android anytime soon. Samsung’s Android tablets and smartphones have earned it considerable success; in light of that, its chances of wholeheartedly embracing a new operating system are likewise pretty low. That leaves smaller manufacturers with a taste to do something different—but whether their Ubuntu efforts can succeed in a crowded and aggressive marketplace remains to be seen.

Canonical will likely reveal more at next week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Editor’s Note: A reference to “Research In Motion” has been changed to “BlackBerry,” to reflect the company’s recent name change.


Image: Canonical