In the past few months, Canonical has done more to get me excited about Ubuntu Touch and convergence than even Google has managed to excite me about Android. With the rollout of OTA-11, there are some new features that are starting to make Ubuntu Touch feel like a real contender for the mobility smackdown.
Yes it still has a way to go; but following this platform is like watching a Jack Russell terrier chasing down asquirrel. The squirrel might be faster and more agile, but the tireless terrier will not give up. As it zips about the yard, that terrier seems to be picking up more and more tricks to help him in the chase. It's starting to look like the dog could catch the squirrel.
That's exactly what is happening with Ubuntu Touch...and OTA-11 is no slouch in tricks.
Before I get to that one seriously amazing "trick", let's chat about the smaller features that help to polish the platform.
Rotating Scopes app
Finally. This was one decision I couldn't wrap my head around. For the longest time, the Ubuntu Touch developers decided the Scopes app shouldn't rotate. Sure the Launcher would rotate, but that Scopes app remained forever locked in portrait mode. With OTA-11 that all changes. When you rotate the device into landscape mode, the Scopes app will finally go along for the ride (Figure A).
The rotated Scopes app along with the Launcher on a Meizu Pro5 Ubuntu Edition.
Pre-populated Home scope
The first scope you see when you open your device is the Home scope. Prior to OTA-11, the Home scope would populate after you unlocked the device...making it seem very sluggish. I compared the new feature to the old way of working and the change is remarkable. Gone is the day when you had to wait for your Home scope to populate with information (this is even more noticeable after a startup or restart).
The pre-populated Home scope might seem like a tiny change, but for those who've suffered through waiting for the Scopes app to be available, this will be a refreshing upgrade.
Web browser works with Google Hangouts
Thanks to a user-agent string issue prior to OTA-11, the Unity Web Browser failed to work with Google Hangouts. That is a thing of the past. Other improvements to the Unity Web Browser include:
- Dynamic Ubuntu version number now included in the default user-agent string
- Memory management drastically improved for background tabs
- Window-level keyboard shortcuts now properly handled
- Media permission request dialog redesign
And now for a bit of awesome
As promised, I save the major feature of OTA-11 for last. You already know about convergence and how it works...you plug your Ubuntu Touch device into a monitor and, viola!, the device automatically switches to desktop mode and is displayed on your monitor. But what if you didn't have to physically plug the device in?
Say it isn't so!
It is. It very much is. The developers of Ubuntu Touch have baked in wireless convergence. That's right...all you need is a wireless dongle attached to your monitor and you can converge a full Ubuntu Touch desktop experience to the monitor (Video A).
Richard Collins, product manager from Ubuntu, showing off wireless convergence.
With wireless convergence, there's no need for a docking station or bulky (often unsightly) cable. You simply enable the wireless display from Settings | Brightness & Display. Switch on External display (Figure B) and then tap Wireless display and select your wireless dongle.
Enabling Wireless display.
Of course, there are two caveats to this. First, you must have a wireless dongle attached to your monitor. Fortunately, Ubuntu Touch supports most wireless display adapters (including Microsoft Display Adapter). Second, it currently only works on the Meizu Pro 5 (but will be rolling out to all future Ubuntu Touch devices).
What upgrade would be complete without bug fixes? The short list of key fixes includes (with a nod to OMG Ubuntu for digging through the complete bug list to come up with the most important bits):
- Interrupted downloads in Browser app now show notification
- Fix for website colour theming in browser
- Photos can now be uploaded to Facebook from the web app
- Broken Facebook/Twitter uploads via Gallery app fixed
- It is now possible to see your IP Address for wifi access points
- Username and password fields added to OpenVPN connection
- Gallery app now updates image (when accessed through content picker)
- Camera controls can now be accessed in landscape mode
- Suspend fixes for MX4 and E4.5
- Picture quality improved for low light shows on the MX4
- Telegram can now run in landscape mode on the M10
- Dynamic Grid Unit support
- Traditional Chinese support in keyboard
- Improved version of Network Manager
- Fix address-book-app header on settings page
- Camera app controls fixed in landscape mode
- Location service now provides higher-quality position updates
Read the full commit log for OTA-11.
But has it improved?
Aside from the amazing wireless convergence (and it truly is game-changing), the most important aspect of an update is simple...did the update improve the experience? After all, every developer wants their platform to always be improving. So, what's the end result with OTA-11? To the casual user, it might seem like the latest Ubuntu Touch image really didn't do much. However, the truth is much more telling than that. With the release of OTA-11, Ubuntu Touch now runs much smoother; apps are faster to open, animations are cleaner, and there's much less wait involved with regular usage. That doesn't mean Ubuntu Touch has been perfected. It's still not on par with the speed and efficiency of either Android or iOS, but it has made amazing leaps forward with OTA-11 and is closing the gap faster than anyone would have deemed possible.
I can safely say that this latest upgrade to Ubuntu Touch has finally made it a platform I would seriously consider for my daily driver. From my perspective, all Ubuntu Touch needs now is official apps from Google (even just Google Chrome) and they'll be golden.
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.