Open Source

The one simple fix that could make the Ubuntu Phone incredible

If you've given Ubuntu Touch a chance, you've probably felt like the platform holds the possibility to be great, but is missing something. Jack Wallen thinks he's solved that confounding enigma.

touchhero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

I've been working with the Meizu Pro 5 Ubuntu Edition for a while now. It's a nice piece of technology that finally offers the Ubuntu Touch platform the power necessary to get the job done. During my time with this device, I had to constantly remind myself that, sadly enough, the platform really isn't ready for prime time.

But it's very close.

Many people have criticized Ubuntu Touch's laggy behavior. And while that is very much front and center on the Pro 5, I accepted that fact, simply because the platform is still in its youth. I hearken back to the first time I set fingers to the Android platform and recall how terrible that experience was (HTC Hero anyone?). If I'm being completely honest, the state of Ubuntu Touch is actually well ahead of where Android was in its infancy. To be fair, however, the developers of Ubuntu Touch have been privy to the ebb and flow of mobility in a way that the Android developers were not. The early days of Android were groundbreaking and Canonical have the benefit of not making those same mistakes that were made while Android was learning to crawl.

If I were asked what I thought of the Ubuntu Touch ecosystem, one word comes to mind:

Lacking.

Now, before anyone starts shaking their head, let me explain.

What it's lacking

Ubuntu Touch isn't missing out of features. In fact, the platform offers everything that users have grown accustomed to...only in a slightly different format. Whereas most mobile platforms offer apps, Ubuntu Touch works with Scopes. If we're being honest, Scopes are really just fancy web pages...which then makes you think that the platform isn't really all that different from Chrome OS. However, as much as I love Chrome OS, it would not make for a viable smartphone platform. But even though Chrome OS wouldn't be suitable as a smartphone OS, it still offers the one thing that the Ubuntu Phone lacks.

A pseudo home screen.

That is the single element Ubuntu Touch lacks...one that it needs if the platform will ever succeed in winning over users. Why? Let me explain.

I've been a Linux user since the late nineties. Since I first started using the open source platform, I've happily hopped around from distribution to distribution, from desktop to desktop. I loved the variety that could be found within the realm of Linux. But no matter how many different desktop environments or window managers I tried, I found there were certain features that were required so that I could find myself productive.

Jump to the mobile environment, and the same thing holds true. The one thing missing from the Ubuntu Touch environment is the home screen. I get where they are going with this, but (for me and many others) it's not working. The idea that your home screen is a Scope (or collection of Scopes) ready to serve up information about Today, News, etc. is fine...if it's not the only option. Sure you can opt to use a different default scope...but the fact is, you are limited to a scope being your home screen. Gone is the idea of customizing your home screen with a wallpaper. Home screen launchers? No. Widgets? Fuggetaboutit.

What Canonical is doing with Ubuntu Touch is great. But if they want to appeal to the masses, they can't simply strip away the neutral area that all mobile platforms share. No matter how long I work with Ubuntu Touch, no matter how familiar I get with the system (and how intuitive it becomes...which it does eventually), I always want to return to a home screen. Every time that Today Scope appears, I want to swipe it away and see a nice wallpaper and clock widget. Why? It's home.

And home is, after all, where the heart is.

Cliché much?

I know, I know...it's cliché, but it's true. The home screen is, in most mobile platforms, a major factor in efficiency. If this wasn't the case, why have so many home screen launchers been developed for Android?

  • Because people use them
  • Because people like to customize their devices
  • Because people like the familiar

"In excess" is not just a band

Although Ubuntu Touch is missing that precious home screen, thanks to Scopes it does an outstanding job of getting information into the hands of the user. And that's a good thing. But as with all things, a touch of moderation would be nice. As it stands, Ubuntu Touch wants to flood you with information. The second you unlock the device, you are presented with the Today Scope (Figure A). You can swipe to the right to get information about anything nearby, swipe again to get to your apps, swipe again to get to the news, again to see music, yet again to see videos, and yet again to see photos.

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Jack Wallen

The Ubuntu Touch Today Scope.

I would love to see a home screen akin to the Ubuntu desktop. A nice wallpaper, the launcher, and then, when tapping the Ubuntu icon, those Scopes can come out to play. But as it stands, the Ubuntu Touch interface seems a bit forced, a bit backwards in its thinking. Let the user decide what they want to see when their device is unlocked (and adding/rearranging scopes isn't enough). Give us the option to use a home screen like every other mobile platform on the market and you might just have a massive hit on your hands.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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