Just yesterday Canonical was teasing an OS based on Ubuntu for phones, but until Wednesday many of the details remained a mystery. The company however wasted no time, as Canonical posted a countdown teaser on Ubuntu’s homepage on the first day of 2013. The phrase “So close, you can almost touch it” was posted alongside the countdown, alluding that a significant announcement would come soon.
Ubuntu for phones isn’t a whole new operating system. Instead, it is a “smartphone interface” for Ubuntu. This helps Ubuntu differentiate from other phone operating systems by Voltron-ing itself into a full-fledged PC when docked to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard.
Ubuntu has previously been in the smartphone game with Android devices that become a modified Ubuntu PC when docked. This didn’t make much of an impact, as the most prominent such device—the Motorola Atrix and lapdock—has been discontinued.
Ubuntu for Android is a separate product, which Canonical will continue to maintain. The newly announced version of Ubuntu will run on smartphones without any reliance on Android, however. This helps fulfill founder Mark Shuttleworth‘s promise of having Ubuntu become one operating system from phones to supercomputers.
This Ubuntu-based smartphone OS will support both ARM and x86 processors, which means that Android hardware manufacturers and developers should be able to adopt the operating system with little trouble.
Although Ubuntu’s mobile software is still in its early stages, an Android version of the Linux-based operating system was announced about one year ago in February 2012. This marked the first step toward a mobile presence for Ubuntu and Canonical chief Mark Shuttleworth says that the software’s Android variant is set to launch this year.
The OS is said to feature these specs:
1. Edge magic: thumb gestures from all four edges of the screen enable users to find content and switch between apps faster than other phones.
2. Deep content immersion—controls appear only when the user wants them.
3. A beautiful global search for apps, content, and products.
4. Voice and text commands in any application for faster access to rich capabilities.
5. Both native and Web or HTML5 apps.
6. Evolving personalized art on the welcome screen.
And here is what we have learnt from the PR:
- No carriers and handset makers were announced, but Shuttleworth is aiming for a phone to be released in the last quarter of 2013 or the first quarter of 2014.
- Given that Ubuntu is open source, a full Ubuntu image that can run on a Galaxy Nexus will be available within a few days or weeks.
- Ubuntu 14.04 (the release in April 2014) will be one image that works across phones, tablets, and desktops.
- Ubuntu for Android is not dead. “We do expect Ubuntu for Android to ship on marquee devices in 2013, and it will have a multi-year lifecycle,” Shuttleworth said. “It enables our partners and ourselves to start opening up the convergence superphone market where you have a phone that can also be a desktop when you’d dock it, without losing some of the things you value in Android itself.”
- Building a market for phones that double as PCs has “been a long and slow process because it’s essentially a category that doesn’t exist today,” Shuttleworth said.
- Canonical gave reporters some hands-on time with an Ubuntu phone prototype in London today, and will do the same next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.