Canonical reveals Ubuntu tablet plans

Canonical reveals Ubuntu tablet plans

Summary: As expected, Canonical has announced their plans for Ubuntu on tablets as well as the signing of a deal with a major mobile silicon provider to provide Ubuntu smartphone and tablet chips.


In London, Canonical, Ubuntu Linux’s parent company, revealed its tablet interface. This, according to the company, is its "next step towards one unified family of experiences for personal computing on phones, tablets, PCs and TVs."

Ubuntu is on its way to tablets.

"Multi-tasking productivity meets elegance and rigorous security in our tablet experience," said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and Canonical in a press call. “Our family of interfaces now scales across all screens, so your phone can provide tablet, PC and TV experiences when you dock it. That's unique to Ubuntu and it's the future of personal computing."

More precisely, as Shuttleworth told me yesterday, this universal Ubuntu Linux for all platforms is a goal that  Canonical and its partners are working toward -- and not one they've already reached. That said, from a user's viewpoint, the Ubuntu Unity interface on the soon to be released developer beta will look the same on all its platforms.

This new  tablets and smartphones focus does not mean that Ubuntu will be moving away the desktop -- even though the Linux destkop has not so far proven  profitable for Canonical. Shuttleworth said that the mobile devices will increase the presence of Ubuntu in the market and, in turn, make Ubuntu more attractive to desktop users. 

The full release, for users, will be available in Ubuntu 13.10 in October. The full, ready-for-anyone version will be out in Ubuntu 14.04 in April 2014. Shuttleworth also said in today's conference call that Canonical has just signed a deal with "a very large supplier of silicon to mobile industry [who] will be optimizing Ubuntu on their chips." Further details on this partnership will be revealed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in late February.

In addition, Shuttleworth said that major phone carriers in the North America, Europe and China will be shipping Ubuntu phones in 2014.

What will Ubuntu bring to the tablet that Apple's iOS and Google's Android don't? Canonical makes the following claims:

  • Unique 'side stage' multi-tasking puts phone and tablet apps on a single tablet screen
  • Secure enterprise tablets: with full disk encryption, multiple secure user accounts and standard management tool that covers Ubuntu server, PC and touch.
  • Real multitasking: Uniquely, Ubuntu allows a phone app on the screen at the same time as a tablet app. The Ubuntu side stage was invented both to enable efficient multitasking and to improve the usability of phone apps on tablets.
  • Secure multi-user: Multiple accounts on one tablet with full encryption for personal data, combined with the trusted Ubuntu security model that is widely used in banks, governments and sensitive environments, making it ideal for work and family use.
  • Voice controlled HUD productivity: The Heads-Up Display, unique to Ubuntu, makes it fast and easy to do complex things on touch devices, and transforms touch interfaces for rich applications, bringing all the power of the PC to your tablet. 
  • Edge magic for cleaner apps: Screen edges are used for navigation between apps, settings and controls. That makes for less clutter, more content, and sleeker hardware. No physical or soft buttons are required. It’s pure touch elegance
  • Content focus: Media is neatly presented on the customizable home screen, which can search hundreds of sources. Perfect for carriers and content owners that want to highlight their own content, while still providing access to a global catalog.
  • Program convergence: Users won't need to worry about which version they'll run on a device. A Ubuntu program will run on all Ubuntu platforms
  • Full convergence: The tablet interface is presented by exactly the same OS and code that provides the phone, PC and TV interfaces, enabling true device convergence. Ubuntu is uniquely designed to scale smoothly across all form factors.
  • Unique convergence across all four form factors: a phone can provide tablet, TV and PC interfaces when docked to the appropriate screen / keyboard / remote.

It's the last two points that I see having the potential to make Ubuntu stand out above its established smartphone and tablet competitors. Shuttleworth said that convergence was "at the heart of Ubuntu" moving forward.

As for the tablet itself, Oren Horev, lead Ubuntu tablet experience designer, said in a statement: "The Ubuntu tablet interface supports screen sizes from 6 inches to 20 inches and resolutions from 100 to 450 PPI. The tablet fits perfectly between phone and PC in the Ubuntu family. Not only do we integrate phone apps in a distinctive way, we shift from tablet to PC very smoothly in convergence devices.”

In another interesting shift, Ubuntu is making a direct appeal to Windows users, but not as a substitute for Windows. Instead, the company claims that "on high end silicon (high-end meaning at least an Intel Arom processor), Ubuntu offers a full PC experience when the tablet is docked to a keyboard, with access to remote Windows applications over standard protocols from Microsoft, Citrix, VMWare and Wyse."

In a statement, Stephane Verdy, who leads enterprise desktop and thin client products at Canonical, said, “An Ubuntu tablet is a secure thin client that can be managed with the same tools as any Ubuntu server or desktop. We are delighted to support partners on touch and mobile thin clients for the enterprise market."

Ubuntu on the tablet won't just be for high-end x86-powered tablets, though. “Our four-year engagement with ARM has shaped Ubuntu for mobile” said Rick Spencer, VP Ubuntu Engineering at Canonical. “We benefit from the huge number of contributing developers who run Ubuntu every day, many of whom are moving to touch devices as their primary development environment.”

Ubuntu for tablets is ready to go on existing hardware. Canonical states that "Ubuntu is compatible with any Linux-oriented Board Support Package (BSP). This means Ubuntu is easy to enable on most chipset designs currently running Android. Ubuntu and Android are the two platforms enabled by Linaro members.

While there were no announcements of shipping hardware, you will be able to check Ubuntu on tablets yourself. The Touch Developer Preview of Ubuntu will be published on the February 21 with installation instructions for the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablet devices as well as smartphones such as the Nexus 4 and Galaxy Nexus. Installable images and source code will be available from the Ubuntu developer site.
The Preview software development kit (SDK), which currently supports phone app development, will now be updated to support tablet apps as well. And, once again, Canonical promises that "Uniquely, on Ubuntu, developers can create a single application that works on the phone, tablet, PC and TV because it is the same system and all services work across all form factors."

Can Canonical live up to these promises? With the release of the developer beta and the SDK, we'll soon see.

Related Stories:

Topics: Ubuntu, Linux, Mobile OS, Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • Canonical reveals Ubuntu tablet plans

    Kudos Canonical
  • Re:

    It has a unique function called "side stage" which let's you snap two applications on the screen. Oh wait, this is also available in Windows 8. It can easily let you switch apps by swiping from the left. Oh wait, this is also available in Windows 8. Where is the innovation in this?
    • Really?

      Pretty sure you have no idea what ubuntu is...
    • Galaxy Tab First

      Oh wait, this is also available in Galaxy Tab First
      Henrique Dourado
    • -10 points for not reading or listening

      Windows 8 cannot use phone apps and tablet apps side-by-side.

      Michael Alan Goff
      • Well phone apps may not be able to run on

        Windows 8 tablet, but the concept lives.

        And as for the official troll Henrique, who doesn't provide any value to any Windows 8 related thread, Galaxy Tab never had this before Windows 8 CP.
        Ram U
        • So

          It isn't the same thing in the slightest (except 2 apps at the same time), but you're saying "the concept lives".

          What concept lives?

          Windows 8 being the "universal OS"? Because that's hardly something Microsoft created. Shuttleworth has been talking about putting Ubuntu on phones, TVs, and tablets for years now.
          Michael Alan Goff
          • Well for that matter it is not Shuttleworth's idea

            and you should give credit where it is due. Apple did that, Microsoft did that and now google is doing that.
            Ram U
          • since when

            had apple said they would put the same OS on all form factors? IIRC, Steve Jobs was vehemently against that idea.
          • That's the scary part

            Apple never said they'd do that, but haven't you noticed iPads, iPhones and iPods all run the same OS. And with each new release they're dragging OSX towards using the same system regardless of the fact that this means abandoning the people who don't consider Macs a toy and use it for actual work such as image editing.

            Steve Jobs may have said he was against the idea but Apple started doing this before he died and he's been proven to make rather hypocritical statements in the past.
          • Opensource.....

            The problem with Open Souce communities is that all the ideas and inventions are out in the open. This simply allows anyone to get great ideas from the people who post in these communities..

            The closed source companies (we know who they are), latches on to the ideas that Ubuntu has then creates and mashes their own OS's together, twist it a little bit, get a patent on it and claim it as their own.

            For example, Ubuntu, had its own cloud services 3 years before the iCloud was even invented. Which does the very same thing, stores files in the cloud. Albeit that Apple has expanded on that concept a little more, its was still originally Ubuntu's idea.

            In 2011 development summit, Mark Shuttleworth, mentioned that he wanted one device to all form factors, the Windows 8 was pushed out as a dev concept, funny it had a lot of ideas in place that Mark had mentioned in is summit opening speech.

            So where has all the good ideas come from??? The Open Source community forums, blogs, summits etc... Apple and Microsoft should be ashammed that they could not come up with their own ideas.
          • Not to mention...

            Microsoft's recently announced "Click-to-Run" software service. That little MS innovation was a rip-off of Linspire's Click'N'Run software store that would later become a Linux standard for delivery of apps. That was also before anyone else had an "App Store".

            "Linspire's CNR (originally Click'N'Run) was a software distribution service based on Debian's APT. It was designed to serve as a GUI-based, user-accessible means of downloading and installing various applications, both free and proprietary. The service allowed users to install available applications using a single click.

            CNR also included a set of Click and Buy (CNB) software, which included many commercial applications to members at a discounted rate. CNR had over 38,000 different software packages[citation needed], ranging from simple applications to major commercial works such as Win4Lin and StarOffice.[20] CNR was originally subscription-based with two tiers: basic service cost $20 annually, and gold, featuring discounts on some commercial applications, $50. In 2006, Linspire announced that the basic service was to be made available for free.

            Linspire planned to port CNR to the Ubuntu distribution. The company announced on April 24, 2006 that CNR would be released under an open source license. The release of the free CNR client was planned to coincide with the release of Freespire 2.0 and Linspire 6.0.

            On January 23, 2007, Linspire announced that it intended to provide CNR for other Linux distributions, both APT- and RPM-based, including Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu. This support was expected to appear in mid-2007.

            On February 8, 2007, Linspire, Inc. announced a partnership with Canonical Ltd., publisher of the Ubuntu Linux distribution. This deal would see Linspire and Freespire migrate from the unpredictable Debian release process to the semiannual Ubuntu release cycle. It was intended that the main Ubuntu distribution would become the first recipient of the opening of the Click'N'Run service to Linux distributions besides Linspire."

          • Wrong

            There hasn't been a single "same OS, different form factors".

            Apple has the same core, and Microsoft has the same core, but neither of them have anything more than that. Google doesn't even have that, aside from... same core, I guess. They're pushing Chrome OS for laptops and desktops and Android for tablets and smartphones.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • But Microsoft is going there

            they have completely abandoned Windows CE for now at least and iOS and OSX share the same kernel and Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs and I see a change in the direction there and I wouldn't be surprised, if Apple releases an iOS based MacBook Air sized ultrabook.
            Ram U
          • Eventually they'll be there

            And Ubuntu will be at the phase of "one app everywhere" around a year before at least.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • Wrong

            Have you heard about Windows Blue, that comes to life in June and by the time Ubuntu releases its tablets and phones, it will be there on Windows ecosystem.
            Ram U
          • Double wrong

            Ubuntu is on the desktop now, has shown to run on tablets recently, and they're releasing it on phones tomorrow.

            The vision will be complete by march at this rate.

            As for Ldo17's assertion of Android, I'll believe it when I see an Android desktop/laptop. Google doesn't push that, though, they push ChromeOS.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • So...

            Who cares, this blog is about Ubuntu not Windows... yawn!!!
          • Re: But Microsoft is going there

            But they've been heading in the opposite direction, with their proliferation of fragmented, mutually-incompatible OSes: Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8 (which hasn't replaced Windows Phone 7), Windows RT ...
          • Well of course he wil

            now that he has seen the future of computing from Canonical, everyone is going to push for their OS to fit all form factors. Lamers!!