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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ubuntu for Phones: 6 Interesting Things We’ve Learned.

When Ubuntu founder and space tourist Mark Shuttleworth speaks, people tend to listen — more so since he and his company Canonical announced they were entering the manic mobile marketplace with Ubuntu for Phones.

In a press conference held earlier this week the multi-millionaire revealed the first mobile handsets to be sold with Ubuntu pre-installed are coming later this year.

What follows are six small nuggets of information from that press call.

1. Two Ubuntu Phones Are Coming This Year

‘You wait ages for an Ubuntu Phone – and then two turn up at once!’

Ubuntu-Phone

A popular British saying alleges that ’You wait ages for a bus…and then two turn up at once’. Swap ‘bus’ for ‘Ubuntu Phone’ and the soundbite remains a relevant and apt observation.

Before the end of the year Mark Shuttleworth promises that not one but two different Ubuntu phones will be released, and by two different companies.

The first Ubuntu Phones are apparently going to be rebadged versions of Android handsets that are already on each company’s respective roadmap. Following that hint we can therefore expect an Ubuntu version of the powerful eight-core MX3 phone from Meizu, and something equal to (or better than) the quad-core Aquaris 5 from Bq.

Ubuntu Edge?  Pah, that’s ancient news!

2. But They Won’t Be Available Everywhere

Ubuntu Phone on the Bq Aquaris 5

Before anyone gets too excited about these handsets keep in mind that they won’t be available everywhere.

From the hints given by Mark, it seems that the Meizu handset will likely launch in China. That makes sense; Meizu a big brand name in the country, and Ubuntu Touch has already gained the backing of the country’s second biggest mobile network, China Unicom (中国联通).

As for Bq, that’s less certain. We know that the Spanish company’s phones are sold in Uruguay, Spain and Portugal. With the Portuguese carrier Portugal Telecom already a member of the Carrier Advisory Group, could we see Bq launch their Ubuntu Phone there this year?

On a more positive, if equally speculative, note hardware from both companies is often made available to buy online globally, albeit through third-party sellers.

3. Big Brand Phones Are Coming Next Year

’2015 will see Ubuntu Phones from established OEMs, said Shuttleworth’

If you’re bored sick of hearing vague statements about unnamed “household brands” supposedly interested in Ubuntu Touch, or the oodles of carriers clamouring over each other to ship it on their networks (just not yet), then you’ll want to scroll on down to the next point.

If, however, you’re now willing to put a bit more stock in such noncommittal statements now that concrete plans have been announced then listen up: Shuttleworth has said that 2015 should see Ubuntu Touch shipping on hardware from established OEMs and offered by big-name carriers in a wider range of countries.

4. 50 ‘Top’ Android/iOS Apps By Launch

apps-wall-1

Bold statements are nothing new from Mark Shuttleworth. Elephants (and anyone else with a good memory) may recall his 2011 goal for more than 200 million Ubuntu users by 2015.

On the software side his goals are no less ambitious. Mark says he hopes to see the top 50 Android and iOS apps available for Ubuntu Touch this year, just in time for the launch of the newly announced handsets.

While companies like The Weather Channel and Evernote have ‘okayed’ the use of its APIs in community-built apps, the big name apps many consumers rely on remain few and far between. For every VLC port there are gaps in the shape of Twitter, Instagram, Rovio, WhatsApp, et al.

With new focus on HTML5 web-app support, Ubuntu Touch will soon be able to cherry pick the best of, and piggy back off the success of, platforms from Google and Mozilla. Both companies are pushing the boundaries of what web applications can do, blurring the lines of what ‘native’ really means.

Google plans to bring their powerful ‘Chrome Apps’ to Android later this year.

5. Mark Thinks Tizen Is Dead

‘Even Microsoft, with bottomless pockets and universal brand recognition, has found amassing a meaningful number of users difficult’

Only the naive see Ubuntu for Phones as a guaranteed success story; it faces an almightily struggle to gain a foothold in a market so firmly controlled by just a handful of companies. Even Microsoft, with their bottomless pockets and brand recognition, has found amassing a meaningful number of users difficult.

Will Ubuntu Touch fare any better? While Shuttleworth wouldn’t put an exact figure on what might constitute success, it does appear that Canonical is realistic about the task at hand. Mark considers Ubuntu’s “convergent” factor as being a significant disruptor for gaining attention and, more vitally, adoption.

On the competition, Mark didn’t hold back in his view of Tizen, the Intel & Samsung backed Linux OS targeting everything from mobile phones to TVs.

Describing them as a ‘fading force’ that is ‘much less of a competitor than it was 6 months ago’, Mark says he’s expecting to see many of the companies who previously backed the OS start ‘to distance themselves [from it]‘.

6. Canonical Charge OEMs To Ship Ubuntu Touch

cash

Of all the information shared this bit was the one that truly enlightened me: Ubuntu for Phones offers mutual benefits to both Canonical and OEMs/Carriers alike.

Mark explained:

“Our [OEM] partners appreciate that our business model is straightforward …We charge [them] a fee per device [and] we share revenues made from the app store with them”.

Understandably the cost of this “fee” hasn’t been disclosed. It’s not without precedent either; Canonical already require OEMs selling laptops and desktops with Ubuntu pre-installed to pay a nominal fee to cover use of the trademark, licensing, etc.

While Google does not charge for Android, OEMs are required to pay third-party companies for certification of devices that wish to include the core Google Mobile Services (GMS) framework. The cost of certification to gain permission to ship GMS, which includes the Play Store, Gmail and Maps apps, can run into the tens-of-thousands of dollars, The Guardian report.

If Ubuntu for Phones gains traction there will likely be other revenue streams to explore in the future. Thinking out loud, this could include companies paying Canonical for their content to gain preferential surfacing in scopes and shipping with certain applications pre-installed.

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