Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth recently held a press conference for a major announcement regarding the companies that will soon be in the insanely competitive smartphone market.
Up until now, the only way to test a Ubuntu Phone is to have the right hardware (typically a Nexus device), plenty of time, and access to a charger (as the developer devices had horrendous battery life). Late 2014 will see all of that change, as Canonical announced that two major global players in the smartphone hardware business have stepped up to the plate to partner with Canonical to produce the first consumer-grade Ubuntu Phones.
You’re probably thinking “Big deal! It’s only two companies.” Yes, but when you realize that Meizu is a giant in China and creates some amazing devices (such as the MX2) and BQ is the manufacturer of the extensive Aquarius line of smartphones, then you know that there just might be something to this announcement.
Most everyone with their fingers on the pulse of the mobile industry knew the Ubuntu Phone would eventually come to fruition. Many were (and are) certain the device could very easily cause a major stir in the pot currently dominated by iOS and Android.
Think about it -- both Android and iOS have a serious stranglehold on the market, one that few will ever have a chance to break. But along comes an open source company, one mostly known for a Linux desktop, and heads are slowly starting to turn.
Canonical has done this the right way. By adopting Unity early on, Canonical has managed to get the user interface out into the wild. This means the Ubuntu Phone won’t have nearly as many users wondering how to manage the new mobile UI. Another intelligent move on Canonical’s part was their plan for one code base to rule them all. Even now, the Ubuntu Phone shares 90% of the same code as the Ubuntu desktop. By release date, that number will be 100%. That’s right -- the code for the Ubuntu desktop, the tablet, and the phone will be 100% the same. How do they do this? HTML5. Canonical will be using the same code strategy as Google -- Apache Cordova (a cross-platform mobile development platform). According to Shuttleworth, “Anything that works on Android or iOS should work on Ubuntu.”
That might be the best news yet. By adopting HTML5, the Ubuntu Phone shouldn’t suffer the same plight that haunted the Windows 8 Phone -- a ghost town of an app store upon introduction. When the Ubuntu Phone launches, Shuttleworth said the top 50 apps from both the Apple and Android app stores should be available.
No, Ubuntu Phone users won’t find apps like XBill and XSnow filling the app store. Instead, they’ll be treated to the likes of Grooveshark, Weather Channel, Twitter, and a host of other third-party apps.
Sounds to me like Canonical has a plan -- one that could mean almost immediate success for the Ubuntu Phone. That doesn’t, of course, mean the Ubuntu Phone is going to join iOS and Android for a picnic in the park. Bringing a new platform into the mobile-sphere is going to be an almost insurmountable journey. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), Ubuntu (and Linux in general) is accustomed to scratching and clawing its way to the top of the heap. To me, that translates to the Ubuntu Phone being in this for the long haul. Even if the Ubuntu Phone doesn’t come out a raging hit, Canonical will keep plugging away until it is.
My prediction, however, is that the Ubuntu Phone will be a huge hit -- even if only for the devoted Linux fans across the planet. And they are devoted. The Linux community has been clamoring for their own mobile device for years. Linux die-hards will be tossing their current carriers and phones like Windows installer disks to finally see their wish come to fruition. Those same users will be more than happy to make word of mouth Canonical’s best friend.
Passion is on the side of Canonical. A large cross-section of people desperately want this device. If you’ve ever questioned the rabid relationship consumers have with their phones, hang out at a carrier store for a while and chat with one of the employees. Now, imagine one of those stores filled with long-time Linux users about to have their first taste of the open-source platform on an official mobile device.
We’re talking cats and dogs living together levels of madness! And now, by the end of 2014 (as I predicted at the beginning of the year), those fanboys and fangirls will get their wish.
What do you think? How can a brand new contender manage to hold its own in a market dominated by two power houses? And what challenges should Canonical and the Ubuntu Phone expect along the way?
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 getjackd.net.