Canonical’s founder, Mark Shuttleworth, announced on Tuesday that its Ubuntu operating system has been modified to run on smartphones, opening up the possibility of using the same operating system on phones and PCs.
A key selling point of Ubuntu for phones is the ability to dock an Ubuntu smartphone with a monitor and keyboard. It then becomes a fully functioning desktop computer, running the Ubuntu desktop interface.
As a user with relatively simple computing needs, but a growing number of devices with different operating systems, the idea of converging onto a Ubuntu device is a heartening prospect.
But reaction from analysts has been cautious, focusing primarily on the following issues:
Do consumers actually want the power of a fully fledged computer on their phones?
Some experts cite previous attempts at convergence, such as the Motorolla Atrix, an Android phone with the ability to plug into a lapdock accessory. Despite being hailed as the future of mobile computing, the Atrix sold poorly and was withdrawn from sale in October 2012. But the reasons for the failure of the product are not entirely clear: high price and poor software are cited as possible reasons for stalled sales.
Can Canonical persuade smartphone manufacturers to sell Ubuntu installed devices?
The smartphone market is already crowded with operating systems. Apple and Android account for the lion’s share, but there are other players fighting for space: Windows, Blackberry, Mozilla and Tizen.
Many operators are already committed to one of the major operating systems. Finding a hardware partner to produce an Ubuntu phone might be a tall order.
Will software developers build apps for the Ubuntu platform?
To grow beyond a small core of Ubuntu enthusiasts, the Ubuntu platform has to offer versions of mainstream applications.
As a long term Ubuntu user, this has always been a problem. It’s rare to find a linux version of recognised software. Exceptions exist (Skype has released a linux version of its software), but all too often working on Ubuntu means accepting that you need to make compromises.
Will consumers buy it?
If the price is right, and the apps exist, then there is a reasonable chance that a Ubuntu phone will sell. But the market already seems to be settling around Apple and Android products. An Ubuntu phone will have to be a compelling product to overcome the tribal attachment that these brands already command.
It is possible that the right hardware running Ubuntu for phones could be the only device I’d ever need. Well, almost the only one. Maybe I’ll need something with a form factor in between a phone and a desktop too. So, an Ubuntu phone with a docking station and a 7 inch or 10 inch tablet running Ubuntu just about covers it.