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Posts Tagged: Ubuntu Touch

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At the beginning of this year, Canonical announced that it was making an alternative mobile device operating system, called Ubuntu for Phones. With its lack of need for hardware buttons and use of screen sides as hot zones to initiate gesture commands, the underlying UI concept was vastly different from Android.

On the 15th of February, Canonical announced that the Touch Developer Preview of Ubuntu for the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus 4 will become available on the 21st. This is intended for developers and enthusiasts to get used to Ubuntu’s smartphone version. This same day tools and instructions for flashing this to devices will be released on the Ubuntu Wiki.

It is interesting that Canonical chose to release Ubuntu Touch on two Nexus devices. The Nexus line is known to be “Google’s flagship” device group. Perhaps the developer openness of the Nexus line is what allows Ubuntu to be flashed to the device. Additionally, Canonical has announced that attendees at this year’s Mobile World Congress will be able to stop by their booth and have the release installed onto their smartphones.

Also, Canonical has announced that smartphones aren’t the only devices that Ubuntu’s touch-based smartphone operating system will appear on. Ubuntu announced today, “Ubuntu for Tablets.” This adds another layer to the unified ecosystem that Canonical is trying to create: one interface for all your connected devices. However, some people, like KDE’s Plasma Active team leader Aaron Seigo, claim that while the graphics may look the same, the code, is in fact completely different, which could prevent seamless application integration between devices. Only time will tell if this issue actually crops up.

While at CES this year XDA Developer TV Producer Jordan and I got to see an Ubuntu for Phones demonstration. It is very likely that with the unification effort in the Ubuntu ecosystem, that Ubuntu for tablets will be very much similar, if not the same.


Video Courtesy of Twildottv

Additionally, Jordan asked Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon some questions about Ubuntu for Phones. Some of the answers did not have a clear answer, let’s hope they have come up with clever solutions to some of these concerns.


Video Courtesy of Twildottv
XDA_Articles

When we covered the announcement of Ubuntu for Phones two days ago, many quickly demanded that we give the fledgling mobile OS a place in our forums. And with an impressive gesture-driven interface, as well as official support from Canonical, it was really only a matter of time. We’re just as excited as you are, and we can’t wait to see the development and porting that is sure to begin when the first builds are made publicly available.

In addition to the much requested forum for Canonical’s latest and greatest, we’ve created a forum for another, albeit somewhat more obscure, operating system known as Jolla Sailfish. Sailfish OS is based on the Mer project, which is the extant fork of the now-defunct open source MeeGo operating system. Promising compatibility with many unmodified Android apps thanks to the use of Myriad’s Alien Dalvik, Sailfish could indeed become an interesting prospect for some.

Finally, we have also given a home to all development on Android Stick Computers such as the popular Mk808 Mini PC. While not exactly a mobile device, these diminutive boxes carry many of the same internals as our mobile phones, and are powered by a mobile OS.

Those wishing to dive into the discussion can do so by visiting the newly created forums:

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Ubuntu for Phones

If you visited the Ubuntu home page early this morning, you couldn’t have missed the countdown timer that promised something, “So close, you can almost touch it.” Most assumed it to be about a fully touch-optimized UI for the next version of the popular Linux distribution, but it turned out to be something even more significant. In an announcement earlier today, Canonical unveiled Ubuntu for phones, a fully working Ubuntu distribution meant for existing and future mobile handsets.

If you are thinking “Wait, wasn’t Ubuntu for Android already announced last year,” you aren’t alone. Upon first hearing the news, that was the first thing that came to my mind as well. However, this is a whole different project with a much more ambitious aim and broader scope. While Ubuntu for Android was built to run in tandem with Google’s mobile OS to offer a full Ubuntu desktop experience only when docked, Ubuntu for phones is a complete OS in and of itself, entirely independent of Android. Before we get into the details, check out a hands-on video courtesy of The Verge. You will notice significant amounts of lag, but don’t be alarmed because this could be due to this being a development build that is not yet ready for release.

Here’s another, much more detailed 22 minute video featuring the founder of Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth himself, presenting Ubuntu for phones:

An announcement like this one is bound to receive mixed reactions. The Linux and Ubuntu enthusiasts among you must be rejoicing at the idea of getting an official and fully native Ubuntu experience that’s tailored for the small screen, rather than being a mere port of the desktop OS. At the same time, the skeptics must be wondering why on earth Canonical decided to release yet another mobile OS. With Android and iOS dominating the mobile ecosystem, the chances of a new smartphone platform thriving don’t seem too bright. After all, we’ve seen the lack of commercial success in Windows Phone, which despite Microsoft’s efforts over the past couple of years, has yet to grab significant smartphone market share. Though before we jump to conclusions, let’s give Ubuntu for phone a fair chance to at least present itself. So enough talk, let’s take a look at what Canonical has to offer the smartphone world.

The User Interface

Ubuntu for Phones Screens

From the details provided by Canonical and what can be seen in The Verge’s hands-on video, the OS clearly derives significant inspiration from the excellent but ill-fated Nokia N9. There are no on-screen or on-device buttons (it is running on a Galaxy Nexus, after all); and the OS is entirely gesture-driven. Edge-initiated swipes can be a great way to launch and navigate between apps, as we have already seen in case of the N9, and Ubuntu for phone makes full use of these gestures. Here’s how the UI works:

  • Instead of a lock screen, you wake the device to a welcome screen that shows you a stunning visualization of useful information such as the number of messages and tweets waiting for you, the distance you have walked, the time you have talked on the phone, and much more. All this information evolves as you keep on using your device.
  • Instead of providing you with app icons, tiles or widgets, the home screen shows you your most frequently used content including most used apps, most contacted people, and most played media.
  • A short swipe from the left edge brings up a bar of apps while a long swipe shows you all the currently running apps. Being accessible from anywhere across the OS, these gestures make app launching and switching super-fast.
  • Similarly, swiping from the right edge switches to the previously used app. This works in chronological order for all the apps you use, making app switching a breeze.
  • Swiping downwards from the top bar performs different actions depending on the icon in the notification bar you swipe down from. For instance, swiping down on the speaker icon brings up the volume controls, while doing the same on the message icon shows you all your messages, also allowing you to reply to them instantly from right there., rather than having to tap a notification and launch the app. This works not only for messages but also for tweets, email, Facebook interactions and phone calls.
  • As mentioned above, there are no system-wide controls other than gestures, hence there are no universal buttons. However, swiping up from the bottom edge reveals the control bar for in-app actions whenever required.
  • Global search feature will let you quickly access apps as well as content relevant to the current context from anywhere in the OS as well as online results.
  • Similarly, there will be fully integrated voice as well as text command support at both system and app level.

Based on the above, the user experience offered by the UI itself seems outstandingly intuitive. It was a pity to see this excellent gesture-driven interface not make it to the masses in form of the N9 due to Nokia’s decision to ditch the platform, and we hope things fare better for Ubuntu.

Docking Support

Ubuntu for Phones Docked

Smartphones of today have become powerful enough to be useful as our daily use PCs, but their size and form factor makes them unsuitable for getting serious work done. We have previously seen several attempts to do this by the likes of ASUS and Motorola, some of which have been successful in their niche, while others have faded into obscurity. One issue that keeps manufacturers from converging several devices into one is obviously commercial interest. It doesn’t seem to be a smart business choice to sell a phone that does it all for most users, when you can sell the same user a phone, a tablet, and a laptop or desktop PC. Nevertheless, with ~2 GHz quad-core processors, multi-core GPUs, 720p & 1080p HD displays, 32/64GB internal storage, and 2 GB RAM becoming the norm, this convergence is bound to happen sooner or later. While the likes of hardcore gamers, graphic designers and video editors will still buy PCs, these powerful phones have already adequate power for the average user who primarily only needs to play casual games, edit some documents, watch videos, listen to music, and browse the Internet.

With Ubuntu for Android, Canonical had aimed to converge our devices into one, offering a full desktop computer experience right from our phones when docked with a display, keyboard, and mouse. The same docking support is also there in Ubuntu for phones. Canonical aims to offer the OS on both mid-range and high-end devices, and the latter will be able to offer a full PC experience, allowing you to use your phone as your primary computer that you can carry around wherever you go. Being optimistic, we can even start expecting laptop and tablet terminals that only offer the screen, I/O devices, a few extra ports, and high-capacity batteries. These will then use our phones for the computation work itself, just like the ASUS Padfone.

From what we have seen above, things definitely look great for Ubuntu. Though the UI or docking support alone can’t offer a great experience, which brings us to the ecosystem.

The App Ecosystem

Ubuntu for Phones Apps

Ubuntu for phones will ship with all the core apps you would expect from any mobile OS such as phone dialler, SMS & MMS, web browser, email client, camera, photo gallery, music & video player, calculator, alarm clock, and so on. Furthermore, all popular HTML5-based web apps will be readily available for the platform, and will work side-by-side with native apps, complete with their own icons and access to the notification system.

Apart from the web apps, the platform will also enjoy fully native third-party apps. And unlike Android, there will be no Dalvik virtual machine, which will force these apps to be written in native code. If you are a developer, this will be your primary interest, so let’s take a look at what the platform has to offer the developer community.

App Development

We have seen on multiple occasions (webOS and BlackBerry) how developer interest can truly make or break a platform. With almost every modern smartphone out there offering the hardware specs and every smartphone OS offering all the core features required from such devices, the number and quality of apps available for the platform is truly the deciding factor for many users when purchasing their next phone or tablet. This may be a little too early to say right nowm but in case of Ubuntu for phone, the future doesn’t look dark in this regard—even if not too bright just yet.

Canonical made the excellent choice to make Ubuntu for phones not a separate OS from its desktop variant, but rather the very same OS, merely with a different UI. This means apps written for Ubuntu PCs will run on Ubuntu phones and vice versa, with only minimal changes required in the code to support the different form factor and instruction set. The already established Ubuntu Software Center will also cater to phones as the application discovery, distribution, and installation platform. Ubuntu One is also integrated into the OS as the cloud storage medium offering plenty of free space, with optional paid upgrades for those who need them.

Ubuntu’s web app APIs will allow any web app developer to provide their service as a full application. With support for both HTML5 and native code, developers will get a much wider choice for writing their apps. Using Ubuntu’s QML-based development environment, you can write an app’s core features in C or C++, and build its UI using JavaScript. In addition, you get full OpenGL support for building fully hardware-accelerated games and graphic-intensive apps. To help you get started with building apps for the platform, Canonical is offering an Ubuntu QML toolkit preview.

What Lies Ahead?

While only time will tell whether Ubuntu for phones stands against its major competitors in an already saturated market, or ends up suffering the same fate as webOS or Meego, the concept as well as the product itself are both promising. What we do see right now is a well-built OS, a promising app ecosystem, and the much-needed convergence between platforms. Combined together, these are all ingredients for success in this industry. That said, how things actually turn out will also heavily depend upon manufacturer support, as well as the marketing strategy adopted by both Canonical and device manufacturers.

While you can’t try out the OS at the moment, Canonical has promised to make Ubuntu for phone available for several existing devices within this year, starting with the Galaxy Nexus. CES 2013 is just under a week away, and more details will be revealed at that time. Furthermore, you’ll be able to grab the binaries of the OS for your Galaxy Nexus within the next couple of weeks. However, devices with Ubuntu pre-installed aren’t expected to start shipping before 2014.

So what do you think of this newest combatant in the smartphone arena? Join the discussion and let us know in the comments below.

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