In January 2013, Canonical (a company that works with the open source community on Ubuntu, a free operating system) announced that it would build a version of Ubuntu for smartphones. A few months later, it unveiled a crowdfunding campaign to build an Ubuntu-powered smartphone, which attracted $12 million in donations—a solid number, but far short of what the project needed to achieve liftoff.
In the wake of that failure, it seemed the quest for an Ubuntu smartphone was all but dead; certainly manufacturers didn’t seem to have much interest in building devices that didn’t run Google Android. But a funny thing happened on the way to history’s dustbin of dead tech: A European phone-maker, Spain-based BQ, decided to actually create a handset running the OS.
According to Gigaom, the device will be sold only in Europe, and feature a set of last-generation specs—although it will be cheap by smartphone standards. Unlike other smartphone operating systems, which rely on grids of individual apps, mobile Ubuntu features several category-specific homepages (music, news, etc.) that the user can flip between, in order to find the app of their choice.
On paper, Ubuntu on smartphones seems like an interesting effort: Can another platform compete in a market dominated by Google Android and Apple’s iOS? But if Ubuntu’s community wants it to become a true mobile competitor, it will need to ensure the software runs on current hardware, with a design that actually attracts consumers.
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