2013: The year of the Ubuntu Linux tablet and smartphone?

2013: The year of the Ubuntu Linux tablet and smartphone?

Summary: Canonical appears to be getting ready to release a fully touch-enabled Ubuntu Linux operating system. Will Ubuntu tablets and smartphones be far behind?

Countdown to the Ubuntu smartphone and tablet?

Canonical, Ubuntu Linux's parent company, is hinting in big, bright letters that's its about to release a fully touch-enabled version of Ubuntu Unity. The site's banner headline now reads "So close, you can almost touch it." with a clock counting down to 1 PM Eastern time, January 2nd. If this is indeed what Canonical is planning, can Ubuntu-powered tablet and smartphones be far behind?

Canonical has been planning to bring Ubuntu to tablets since it first introduced its controversial Unity interface in 2010. Then, in conversations with Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's founder, I was told that Unity was meant to be Ubuntu's master interface for desktops, netbooks, and tablets.

At the time, while a tablet version of Ubuntu wasn't in Canonical's immediate plans, Jono Bacon, the Ubuntu Community Manager, told me that "all the pieces are in place to create an Ubuntu tablet." Even then, before Unity was launched, I was shown the first baby steps to multi-touch Unity.

Slideshow: Say hello to Ubuntu 12.10 Linux

Since then, Ubuntu has been working hard to incorporate full-featured touch functionality into Unity. In late 2011, Shuttleworth confirmed that Canonical would be bringing Ubuntu Linux to smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs.

Shuttleworth said at the time that, "This is a natural expansion of our idea as Ubuntu as Linux for human beings. As people have moved from desktop to new form factors for computing, it's important for us to reach out to out community on these platforms. So, we'll embrace the challenge of how to use Ubuntu on smartphones, tablets and smart-screens."

In a December 2012 Slashdot interview, Shuttleworth made it clear that Ubuntu on mobile was still in their plans. "Let's make one OS that runs on the phone AND on your supercomputer. We're close to that now - we know Ubuntu makes a great cloud OS and a great server OS and a great desktop. So I think the next frontier is to create a seamless experience from the embedded world to the cloud," said Shuttleworth.

Shuttleworth continued, the "mobile world is crucial to the future of the PC. This month, for example, it became clear that the traditional PC is shrinking in favor of tablets. So if we want to be relevant on the PC, we have to figure out how to be relevant in the mobile world first."

He plans to do this by focusing on establishing "a great story around Ubuntu and mobile form factors - the tablet and the phone - on which we can build deeper relationships with everyday consumers. All the major PC companies [such as Dell] now ship PC's with Ubuntu pre-installed. So we have a very solid set of working engagements in the industry. But those PC companies are nervous to promote something new to PC buyers. If we can get PC buyers familiar with Ubuntu as a phone and tablet experience, then they may be more willing buy it on the PC too."

So what can we expect tomorrow? I think Shuttleworth already told us part of it in the Slashdot interview. He said, "we've said clearly that the phone and tablet are key stories we need to tell by 14.04 LTS [Long Term Support]."

It that wasn't clear enough for you, on his own blog Shuttleworth recently wrote, "Unity in 2013 will be all about mobile--bringing Ubuntu to phones and tablets."

That's all well and good, but I think Canonical will actually have bigger news than just fully embracing phones and tablets with the April 2014 release of Ubuntu. First, I expect Ubuntu to announce that it will more fully support the ARM processor. Today, only the older Ubuntu 12.04 is fully supported on the ARM architecture.

The big news I hope to see tomorrow, and here I'm speculating, is the announcement of Ubuntu hardware tablet and smartphone partners. I feel pretty certain we'll see such news.

After all, without ready-to-run Ubuntu mobile devices, only hardcore Ubuntu hackers will bother with it, and Shuttleworth clearly has much bigger plans for Ubuntu on mobile than to be another alternative firmware such as Android CyanogenMod. Shuttleworth wants Ubuntu on phones and tablets to be as big a player as Android or iOS, not a mere hobbyist operating system. It won't be easy, but I'm sure that's his goal. 

Related Stories: 

Topics: Ubuntu, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • We already have that. It's called Windows and it's get on smartphones,

    tablets, ultrabooks, laptops, desktops, servers, clouds, and hpc. And not only is the os the same but so are the dev tools. It's much more secure and robust than Ubuntu with a better ux on top and already works great on both intel and arm. No need to count down to anything. This may also be the beginning of a bunch of gesture and other ux ip lawsuits for Ubuntu.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Where my friend?

      Johnny: "AUT TACE / AUT LOQVERE MELIORA / SILENTIO" translated from Latin: "Be quiet, unless your speech be better than silence."

      It appears you got your things wrong. Windows Phone is only Windows in name. Windows Phone 7 apps don't run on Windows 7 nor 8. Windows Phone 8 apps need to be ported to run on Windows 8. XBox Metro apps don't run on any other platform but XBox.

      Windows Azure apps are so completely modified, most .net certified professionals aren't able to easily adapt to them.

      Last but not least. Windows Phone 7 needs Visual Studio 2010. Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 needs Visual Studio 2012 and Windows 8. Windows Azure can work with both, but not always.

      As you can see, the development is so fragmented you can't hardly call it a single Dev environment.

      Contrast that to the following:

      You can develop any iOS apps (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) with Mac OS X using X Code. Simple. Direct. No complications.
      • Another clueless person !!!

        You can develop any iOS apps (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) with Mac OS X using X Code. Simple. Direct. No complications.


        You can develop any windows apps ( Tablet, phones, Xbox ) with Windows using .NET. Simple. Direct. No complications.

        The only real difference are the functionalities of the form factor ( as example, the access database operation library ado.net is only available on the desktop version of .NET).
    • Re: We already have that. It's called Windows and it's get on smartphones,

      Unfortunately, the "Windows" brand name has become a catch-all for a fragmented hodge-podge of different platforms with different, incompatible APIs, providing different, incompatible functionalities via different, incompatible build systems through different, incompatible distribution channels. Microsoft doesn't even offer any kind of uniformity between small (phone) and not-so-small (tablet) mobile devices!
      • Most of the reason for that

        Is that MS is primarily a production tool and not a vTech style toy for the technologically retarded.
        I'd like to see an iPhone run a fully functional spreadsheet or a real database for that matter ... so while 'toys' (read apps) will run across the iOS platform, real productivity is still hardware restricted on whatever platform you choose.

        Sure MS could be better integrated, but actually in the main it works just fine.
        • Spreadsheets?

          Really? I run spreadsheets on my iPhone all the time? Well…if you mean by "fully functioning" that gross, bloated thing called "Excel", then only partially. No. I don't run the Excel files that are full of Microsoft specific macros–nor do I want to.

          I run several excellent databases on my iPhone, too. You really should play somewhere where the other kids only deal with Microsoft as you apparently do. There are too many here that know better.
          • would you like to run a spreadsheet on a phone

            some people would rather complain about their phone crashing than to do the real work on a desktop. lmfao!
        • Why in the world

          would you like to run a spreadsheet on a phone... Don't you people have a life?
          BTW, with Gmail, any Excel doc can be opened in Google Docs, so there...
          • Hmm

            "Why in the world would you like to run a spreadsheet on a phone... Don't you people have a life?"

            I was just thinking that.
    • Troll, troll

      Go away
      Shut your mouth one more day
    • crashes and slowdowns already

      Hi :)
      One of my buddies got one.

      I liked the heavy robust feel of it. The retro looks are quite nice too. Blackberries have a much more modern look. Androids and iPhones take that a lot further. The Windows phone seemed to do all the basics that the other ones have been doing for ages.

      About a week later he said his phone had crashed twice and it was working noticeably slower than the first day he'd brought it in.

      Now that it's slower the heavier weight and retro styling just makes it seem old.

      Regards from
      Tom :)
    • ?

      If you mean the debacle known as Windows 8 then you are mistaken. Im a windows guy but windows 8 is a mess and I do look forward to seeing if Ubuntu can fix what windows broke.
  • So now Microsoft approach is good, right SJVN?

    If Linux copies it, then it must make sense. One UI philosophy for phone, tablets and PCs

    To bad, no one have guts to praise Microsoft these days.
    • I was thinking the same thing...talk

      about eating crow. Wow
    • Not the same thing...

      > If Linux copies it, then it must make sense. One UI philosophy for phone, tablets and PCs
      Ubuntu TV, smartphone, server and desktop are all having different user interfaces.

      Each of it are specialized in their own field.

      Quick overview of TV and smartphone;



      • One UI to rule them all...

        ...not. The kids can have their Ubuntuphones with Unity. Us geeks vote for Mint for our desktops. Or KDE, or E17 ...
        • Mint is Ubuntu

          Come on now play nice Mint fan, where did you get your ideas from ???.... thats right Ubuntu, you just decided to put on a different dress. Fundamentally if it was not for Ubuntu, mint would not exist.
    • i don't get it

      where exactly did he say anything about it being a good plan or bad?!
    • Re: So now Microsoft approach is good, right SJVN?

      Not really, no. The Microsoft approach only offers superficial uniformity on top of a fragmented hodge-podge of different, incompatible platforms. Only Linux seems capable of providing a uniform underlying platform across such a diverse range of hardware.
      • Those blinders seem to fit really well.

        "Only Linux..."? Ah, the Apple products must not exist in your world.