Can Ubuntu smartphones steal Android's thunder?

Moderated by Lawrence Dignan | January 7, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Is there a place for Ubuntu Linux in the smartphone market. Or is Canonical's entry too little, too late?

Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson




Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Best Argument: Yes


Audience Favored: Yes (57%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Mobile Ubuntu can steal Android's thunder

Android is undoubtedly the mobile OS to beat in 2013. iOS has loyal fans, but it simply can't achieve Android's volume driven by multiple OEMs producing phones and tablets in countless form factors.

That said, Android has problems. Big ones. The first is Google itself. If you don't opt in to at least a substantial subset of Google's services, you can forget using an Android device. The second is ongoing patent issues, both for Android and manufacturers that use it. Finally, both Apple and Microsoft are ahead of Google in terms of enterprise management and deployment

Ubuntu can address all of these issues on mobile devices, bringing a platform which is at once trusted in the enterprise, unencumbered by patent and privacy issues, and still more open than Android.

Will mobile Ubuntu kill Android? No. Can it steal its thunder, though, and put a squeeze on Google, especially in the enterprise? Yes indeed.

Ubuntu on the smartphone? Too little, too late.

I like Ubuntu. I like the idea of Ubuntu on a smartphone. I don't think they can pull it off.

Why? Let me count the ways:

1) Canonical is too late to the game. Android and iOS already own the smartphone market. Microsoft despite its billions still hasn't been able to get Windows Phone 8 off the ground.

2) The Ubuntu team doesn't know carriers. RIM, Samsung, Apple, etc. all have existing company relationships. Canonical doesn't. Period. End of statement.

3) Canonical has strong PC OEMs relationships, but they don't have strong partnerships with handset manufacturers. Sure, if all you want is hobbyists, you don't need OEMs, but they want a mass market.

4) They're also starting from near zero on handset developers. The best and brightest mobile programmers are already hard at work building Android and iOS applications.

I like the idea of what Ubuntu wants to do. They want one operating system and one interface for smartphones, tablets, PCs, and TVs. Yea them!

Unlike Microsoft, which badly stumbled with Windows 8's Metro interface, I think Ubuntu's Unity interface might just be able to be that do everything on every platform interface. But, even if Canonical does pull off the technical magic, I just don't see how they can beat all the business factors lined up against them.

I'd like to be wrong, but I don't think I am.


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  • SJVN (Mr. FOSS) is on the NO side of this question???

    That doesn't compute!
    Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
    • SJVN will post his opening argument Monday

      I can't wait to hear what he has to say...
      David Grober
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • He's on the realistic side of the argument

      Sad to say, I agree that Ubuntu will fail miserably in the phone market. The entry is too little too late. Steven is right (gag, I can't believe I said that)

      Google had the idle cash to throw at the phone market and create an operating system that was acceptable to many vendors. Canonical doesn't have the cash.

      That said, one element may change the situation. If the rumors that Google will use Motorola as their flagship rather than the promised arms length relationship, that will upset the likes of Samsung. At that point other vendors may spend the cash to switch to something else.

      Moving from Android may result in Ubuntu sales, or could mean Windows 8 sales. I'd bet more on the Windows sales. It may be a distant, very distant third, but it is a proven platform recognized by individuals and businesses alike.

      Canonical is way too late and doesn't have the cash. Whether failure is instant or long and painful, it'll be failure none the less.
      Reply 4 Votes I'm Undecided
      • Ubuntu for mobile will follow ubuntu for phone

        android is already the leader with iOS at second place. I dont think ubuntu will be the number 1 mobile OS but it might have a fighting chance against Tizen, BB10, WP8, and firefox OS for spot number 3.
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
        • Edit

          ubuntu for mobile will follow ubuntu for PC
          Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
    • Read his opening statement

      He actually makes a good case. I don't think Ubuntu is likely to be a dominant platform, but if Canonical does things right, it can take users away from Android, myself included.

      And if Canonical can avoid proprietary bits in the process, it might even persuade RMS to carry a cell phone.
      John L. Ries
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
      • RMS can already carry a smartphone

        As long as he uses a device compatible with Replicant OS:
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
        • Forgot about Replicant

          RMS probably doesn't carry a Replicant phone either, but at least it's something he could use in good conscience.
          John L. Ries
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • If Ubuntu means actual privacy - YES!!!

    Android (Google) talks around privacy. But if you want an active wallpaper for free, be prepared to be electronically stalked. Wallpaper is just one example. Why do wallpaper and flashlight utilities (just two of innumerable examples) need to know your precise location, call log, have full internet access, etc.? Google prefers not to talk about what they do with all the data their users give them, and some that they just take (and pay small fines for later as a cost of doing BIG business). So if Ubuntu is at least as powerful as the Linux-based OS on my Android phone, and keeps Google out of my affairs at my discretion- yeah, I'll try it! It works great on PCs, so why not?
    Reply 4 Votes I'm for Yes
    • Evidently you didn't get the memo about Ubuntu and Amazon

      Not saying that Android isn't tracking a lot of stuff, but Ubuntu isn't without issues on that front.

      Plus, in order to satisfy the carriers desires, Ubuntu is going to have to do one or many things to the OS that users will not like. Apple's gotten some concessions from carriers, but they had the iPhone. Some say Nokia's dying because the Windows Phone they bet the farm on has Skype, which the carriers absolutely hate (wonder why?). What concessions will an unproven OS get out of the carriers or handset makers, who either have deals in place, or are making their own OS? The only advantage I can think of for Canonical over Android is not paying the Microsoft patent "tax" (isn't big business fun?). Besides that, we're looking at either a failed strategy, or an OS that will look little like Ubuntu as you know it.
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided