Ubuntu for Phones — Mobile’s Utility Player

Ubuntu for Phones — Mobile’s Utility Player image ubuntuUbuntu for Phones — Mobile’s Utility Player

Ubuntu for Phones may be an upstart in the mobile industry, but the platform’s desktop heritage gives it an instant start in a space Apple and Microsoft have owned since the beginning: complete device integration. In fact, early reviews of the Canonical-backed mobile OS suggest it may be further along than any of its competitors in terms of a consistent user experience.

Third- and even fourth-wheel status in the smart device world is still huge by business standards — Ubuntu’s users are loyal, though small in number — but the release packs some interesting features that should entice tech enthusiasts and practical employers alike. However well it ends up doing in the Eternal Smartphone War, it’d be silly to think it doesn’t have a solid shot to stay afloat.

The superphone

High-end Ubuntu phones will also work as full PCs when docked. Unlike Windows 8′s all-in-one touch interface, this allows for two separate, format-optimized experiences in the same device. You could, for instance, dock your phone to write a proposal with a full keyboard at home in the morning, then touch it up and send it off on the train to work.

This is made possible through a combination of advance processing power and remote hardware: many Ubuntu applications run natively on the phone, while Windows-based software is streamed from an off-site computer. Companies who provide employees with phones for communication and laptops for basic mobile computing needs may especially appreciate the possible flexibility of a setup like this, not to mention the reduced price. A high-end smartphone without a contract subsidy is still a lot less expensive than a laptop.

A four-pronged approach

Ubuntu’s reach doesn’t stop at the computer. A recently announced smart television venture, Ubuntu TV, acts as a connected media center for all the other screens in the house. It doesn’t appear as though it’ll work with a dock like the platorm’s mobile OS function — the official site makes no mention of it — but Canonical promises cross-compatibility, with features such as two-way media streaming and the ability to use phones or tablets as remotes. Simple screen mirroring could help satiate some home entertainment needs as well, assuming it’s offered as a feature.

The carrier’s friend

The smartphone explosion effectively took firmware out of voice and data carriers’ hands when services like iTunes gave users other, more convenient ways to do things on their phones (like download music and video). Anyone who remembers being stuck with no alternative to mobile web or V-Cast may be too shaken by this news, but the carriers want their share back. It’s easy to see why — and just as easy to see how — Ubuntu’s open, endlessly tweakable design would make it an attractive alternative to carriers wanting their app and media services to show up as default installations.

Developer (and consumer) friendly

Apps work the same way no matter which way the device is being utilized, meaning most of an app developer’s work will carry from phone to desktop with little extra effort required. The potential benefits, from lessened cost to the bliss of a lighter workload, are obvious all the way up the development chain. From a user’s standpoint, the consistent but device-adapted interfaces could offer a much easier learning curve for each if executed properly, despite the high-tech premise.

The outlook

It’s too early to tell how Ubuntu for phones (and tablets and PCs) will do. Are consumers ready to make the leap to the dockable device era of personal computing? If not, will the platform last long enough for it to make the switch? Perhaps most importantly, is it good enough to work as an all-in-one to begin with? Until the phone is out and in our hands, it’s hard to answer any of those questions. If the computer OS’s history indicates anything, it’ll attract the attention of a fiercely loyal fanbase and garner enough business and personal users to stick around quite a while. But in the mobile world, anything is possible. Stay tuned.

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