Jack Wallen speculates on the future of the Ubuntu Phone, based on its initial release with less-than-spectacular hardware.
Ladies and gents, the Ubuntu Phone has finally been released. That's right — Canonical has delivered.
I had to ruin the party right away, didn't I?
Let me step back a bit and enjoy the moment first. Yes, that device many said would never come to fruition has arrived. Let the unboxing videos unfurl their sails and set adrift on the sea of YouTube. If you live somewhere in the European Union, you can get your hands on a Ubuntu Phone for the low price of €169.90. That price will get you the bq Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition.
Before I get into the "Ubuntu Edition" aspect of the device, let me address the hardware. Here are the specs:
- Display: IPS multi-touch screen, five capacitive points, and protective Dragontrail display
- CPU: Quad-core Cortex-A7, up to 1.3 GHz MediaTek
- GPU: Mali 400, up to 500 MHz
- Internal Memory: 8 GB
- RAM: 1 GB
- Battery: LiPo 2150 mAh
- Connections: dual micro-SIM, micro-USB OTG slot, 3.5 mm TRRS headphone jack (CTIA), microSD slot with up to 32 GB
Those are some seriously underwhelming specs. It is, for certain, a mid-level device (Figure A). In fact, the case is a plasticky uneventful trip into blahsville... something very few users would get rabid to purchase.
The underwhelming hardware that powers a brilliant platform.
This is a shame. Why? Because what Ubuntu has done is create a mobile platform that is not only truly unique, but exactly what the mobile experience should be — a seamless, effortless, elegant interface between user and hardware. How did they do this?
In a word: Scopes.
If you've used Ubuntu Unity, you know about scopes. If not, let me explain. Scopes are Unity's universal search. You add scopes to the Dash for various sources (there are over 100), and you can easily search whatever you want (from your local machine, to Amazon, to Wikipedia, to SoundCloud... the list goes on and on). Canonical took this idea and applied it (brilliantly, if I may add) to Ubuntu Phone. Instead of having to add widgets or apps to get information to your device, you add a scope. With scopes, you could effectively have a home screen dedicated to various categories — similar to having each page of your Android home screen focused on a specific area. The difference between the two is that it's much easier on the Ubuntu Phone to add that dedicated "page" on your home screen.
The Ubuntu Phone also got rid of the standard navigation buttons found on most devices. How do you navigate through the phone? Gestures. Each edge swipe of the screen has a different action:
- Swipe from the left to see the Launcher (launch your favorite apps)
- Swipe from the top to access your notifications and phone settings
- Swipe from the right to see all running apps you have running (quick swipe flips through scopes)
- Swipe from the bottom to view the controls
The Ubuntu Phone UI is revolutionary on the mobile front. Canonical did an amazing job with the platform.
Unfortunately, here's where I ruin the party.
Ubuntu is wasting their brilliant platform on hardware that will cause it to be very quickly forgotten. What should have been a major, game-changing release has become nothing but a faint blip on the mobility radar. If Canonical is serious about pushing a platform that most all mobile users would be happy to use, they need to find a serious hardware vendor (something like what would have been Ubuntu Edge) and release a device that will catch the attention of the users. Few users are willing to give a mobile device — one that should be viewed as flagship — a second glance when the hardware is shamelessly mid-range (at best). What this equates to is a phone with a very long boot time and dreadful lag when switching apps and scopes.
How could Canonical have agreed on this particular device as the first Ubuntu Phone to be available for the public? It makes zero sense. With an operating system that shoots for the moon and hardware that hardly makes it down the block, this combination has failure written all over it.
And I so badly wanted the Ubuntu Phone to succeed.
That doesn't mean it is doomed to fail. However, in order for the Ubuntu Phone to enjoy some success, Canonical will have to cover up this flop as quickly as possible. To do that, they'll need to raise the very low bar the Aquaris set with an actual flagship quality device.
Honestly, they should have held off until Meizu was ready to release the MX4 Ubuntu Edition. The specs on that device blow the Aquaris out of the water. No more lag, no more inordinate boot times, no more meh.
But that's not how it came down. Canonical allowed their baby to be unveiled wearing rags and hardly able to crawl.
My big question is this: Can the Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition save the platform from the vastly underwhelming experience that is the Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition? Maybe... just maybe. The device has more power, a sexier look, and the company, Meizu, has more of a presence in the market than does bq. When the MX4 Ubuntu Edition arrives, at least then Canonical can promote its platform on a true flagship device.
Until then, who knows? What will happen if the Ubuntu Phone has to rely on the likes of the Aquaris E4.5? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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