The Ubuntu operating system has been adapted to run on smartphones.
The Linux-based software will allow users to run desktop apps on their handsets, allowing them to double for PCs when docked to monitors.
Here are the reasons why I think Mark Shuttleworth is doing this:
Today, Linux is everywhere in the sense that beneath Android – runs Linux. Unfortunately, Ubuntu doesn’t figure in the equation. Tablets, phones are all locked down devices and enthusiast/hobbyist open source doesn’t figure unless drivers are available. To maintain relevance, Ubuntu needs to exist in the mobile space.
Today’s announcement is an early one, and is making the same value proposition as Android did early on, before Google’s acquisition. i.e. an open source system that any phone vendor can use to build their smartphone platforms on.
Ubuntu has a remarkably polished desktop product for years but it has remained a fringe product and the PC market has simply stopped growing. Jobs has carefully taken Apple around MS’s hegemony on the desktop by tackling music players first, then a pincer movement through Windows Mobile dominance by producing a very expensive smartphone.
Shuttleworth faces not one but several well established and cashed up competitors – Apple, Google/Samsung, Amazon. I haven’t even mentioned Microsoft, or the Chinese Korean and Taiwanese versions of a smartphone OS. Each of them have an arsenal of patents and services that gives them degrees of freedom to move around the space. Google for example commands the email/contacts/calendar integration, YouTube, Maps and Navigation. Google’s approach is to deny competitors full functionality of these services to cripple their smartphone offerings. e.g. turn by turn in the case of iOS, YouTube search APIs in the case of Windows Phones. Apple and Amazon have offered cloud locker services for those who purchased music and books from their online stores. Microsoft has some cards left in enterprise management and server integration.
I believe this is just an initial salvo. Promising compatibility with Android kernel level drivers is a good start. Right now there isn’t enough value proposition for Ubuntu phone in terms of apps or services. Integrating a phone and desktop are novel but it is far from a sure bet. A reference phone design might be good bet if they think it will persuade some of the smaller Chinese manufacturers to jump onboard. However, this will not please Dell. It might make a MIUI-like play, and remain a niche phone OS for several years until the opportunity is right.
What Ubuntu really needs to do now as an organisation is to make a sideways bet into iOS and Android. It needs to kick start development of its own mail app, or acquire a navigation maker like Waze, and get these loaded onto the popular phones today. There is still some geek-cred left in Ubuntu for people to load these apps on, and who knows, they might catch on in the enterprise space.