Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring, Ubuntu Phone

Yesterday evening Canonical posted a much-hyped “virtual keynote” (video of Mark Shuttleworth) announcing Ubuntu for phones. This heralds a new open source phone OS entering the scene, and I’d like to take a look at some of the points from the 20 minute video that I found interesting, as well as how it’s been received by the wider technology community.

The first thing that interests me about Ubuntu for phones is that it’s build on an Android base. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, Canonical built on the work that the Android Open Source Project has already done to support mobile hardware on Linux. For Canonical, this means a lot less development for them to worry about. For users and manufacturers, it means a phone that can run a vanilla open source Android ROM (such as Google’s Nexus phones) can also run Ubuntu.

Despite this, it will not run Android apps, or as TechCrunch pejoratively put it: “Android apps can’t even run on the Ubuntu Phone OS”. This makes sense to me, however.

Ubuntu’s offering to developers is twofold: firstly, first-class citizenship for web apps using the Unity Web API that landed in Ubuntu 12.10 – the same code used to integrate with the Unity desktop will allow apps to integrate with the phone’s interface (it’s not clear if this is also called “Unity”). Secondly, native apps written in QML are supported, a great framework for building interfaces with the Qt toolkit (again, Canonical aren’t reinventing the wheel, which is good). As such, the business of the apps will be written in C++ (with OpenGL supported for graphical flair), and Javascript for interface “glue”.

Adding a Java/Dalvik VM to support Android apps would be a big drain on resources, and as Mark Shuttleworth said recently, would cause more problems than it solves for the Ubuntu ecosystem.

In the video, Mark also mentions your Ubuntu Phone being your PC. Whether this means a blown up version of the touch UI when attached to a screen and keyboard, or a full-blown desktop environment a la Ubuntu for Android isn’t clear. It’s quite a compelling feature though, especially for businesses, who would have less devices to manage and be able to do so through Canonical’s Landscape product.

Towards the end of the video, Mark mentions that “a few lucky members of community have had early private access” to some parts of the system. Presumably this is the first of the “Skunkworks” projects that Mark announced recently on his blog, where Canonical are bringing in contributors from the community to projects that would otherwise be completely behind closed doors. Hopefully we’ll hear more about the work these community members have been doing in due course.

I could go on about this, but I’ll leave it there for now. I’m sure we’ll be discussing Ubuntu for Phones at length on the next series of the Ubuntu UK Podcast. If you’ve got any thoughts you’d like to share, leave them in the comments below!

One thought on “Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring, Ubuntu Phone

  1. Looks promising to me. I love my Palm Pre Plus and this looks like the next best thing. I do have a couple questions:
    1. What is the battery life like?
    2. What is the onscreen keyboard like?

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