Ubuntu handsets will be appearing this year after all, Canonical announced on Wednesday. There are two small manufacturers lined up to release Ubuntu phones during 2014, though neither is a household name: BQ and Meizu.
According to Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth, bigger names are on the horizon for 2015, but the firm chose smaller launch partners “for whom we will be a significant part of their story in 2014.” He’s not kidding – Meizu only launches one piece of hardware at a time and BQ is best known (which isn’t to say well-known) as an e-reader maker.
A Canonical employee had previously said he would be surprised to see Ubuntu phones appear in 2014. “That was miscommunicated,” said Shuttleworth. “The chap in question was saying will see household names in 2015.”
Shuttleworth also confirmed earlier suggestions that Evernote was working on an app for Ubuntu. The note-taking outfit is apparently designing a native app, though most of the apps that appear at launch will probably be web apps. As Shuttleworth noted in Wednesday’s conference call, Ubuntu’s HTML5 strategy is, “in a very happy twist of fate,” based on the same Apache Cordova APIs and WebKit Blink layout engine that Google is using in its own, Chrome-centric HTML5 push.
Regarding carrier adoption, the open-source firm isn’t naming names here, but Canonical mobile and online services chief Cristian Parrino noted that 16 operators – including Verizon, T-Mobile USA, Vodafone, Telstra, EE, Three and Portugal Telecom – are in its “carrier advisory group.” He said Ubuntu’s Scopes feature, which will surface app content via contextual search on the home screen, aligned well with carriers’ desire to boost data usage in order to sell more 4G plans.
“This is also a method by which operators and [manufacturers] can differentiate their offerings in unprecedented ways,” Parrino added.
So, is Ubuntu something we should take seriously as a mobile force? Obviously Shuttleworth thinks so, and the key, as far as he is concerned, is convergence. The plan has always been to have one device that works like a phone, but also like an Ubuntu desktop if you hook it up to a monitor and keyboard.
Shuttleworth is convinced that the two big beasts, Google and Apple, also have their eyes on a similar prize. He pointed out that, when Google sold Motorola Mobility to Lenovo, it hung onto the division that’s developing a concept called Project Ara, in which a cellular phone module – the core PC, if you will — can be plugged into a variety of other modules in order to build different form factors. And as for Apple, he highlighted how the company is now keenly describing its iPhone chipset as desktop-class.
“If you believe the phone is the end of the line,” he said, then iOS and Android will continue to dominate the device space, but “if you think in fact that the turbulence we’ve seen over the last five years will continue because of further platform disruptions, then it’s an open game.” And Ubuntu, which is already all about convergence, would be well-placed.
Shuttleworth also dropped another couple of interesting tidbits, based on what he’s been hearing:
- Regarding Tizen – “We see it as much less of a competitor today than it was six months ago… I think we will see announcements at [Mobile World Congress] about Tizen being repurposed into other interesting but far-out projects… I think you can rule them out from the mobile space.” Indeed, there have been reports that Samsung will power the second iteration of its Gear smartwatch with Tizen rather than Android.
- Possibly regarding Firefox OS, for which we haven’t seen any sales figures yet: “Our understanding is new platforms in the market have catastrophically high return rates.” He added that Ubuntu obviously faces its own challenges, and “our focus is not on celebrating others’ stumbles.”