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%)

Closing Statements

Market is hungry for a great third option

Christopher Dawson

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols makes a very reasonable case for the ongoing dominance of Android in the smartphone market, as well as growing dominance in the tablet market. In fact, I don't disagree with him on that point.

However, there's a bigger picture here that folks who discount mobile Ubuntu are missing. Will Ubuntu overtake Android and Apple with soccer moms and technorati alike waiting for days in line to grab up the latest uPhone from Canonical? Of course not. However, only having two players in the mobile market is like our current two-party government - it just isn't good for consumers and competition. Yes, Windows Phone/Windows 8 is there and will have an impact in the enterprise, but a third option with reach into both consumer and enterprise spaces means something. The market is hungry for a great third option and Ubuntu has all the chops to be it.

Technically, Ubuntu is a winner but...

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Since I started this debate I've had a chance to talk with Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth and get a look at an early version of Ubuntu for phones Oh My God. Sorry to sound like a teen-aged girl, but bven at this very early stage, Unity on the phone is the sweetest smartphone interface I'd ever seen.

From day one I knew Unity was really meant for touch interfaces. That's one reason why so many Linux fans were having fits about it replacing their GNOME 2.x style interfaces, I was inclined to give it a chance.

In addition, unlike Android, where the version you get is what you usually are stuck with for forever and a day, Ubuntu on phones, just like on the desktop, will be constantly upgraded. For frustrated Android smartphone geeks who always want the newest version they'll feel like they died and went to heaven.

Still, I'm left facing Ubuntu's real problem: Getting the carriers to buy it. After all, if no one ships it, it won't matter if it's the second coming of the iPhone. Shuttleworth feels that getting carrier support is all important and that the phone OEMs will follow along if they ask for it.

I hope, I really do, that he's right, but he's facing an uphill battle. I'll be rooting him on (sorry little, very little, Linux joke there) but beating Android and iOS is going to be hard. Knocking off RIM, Windows Phone OS, etc. -- that seems much more possible.

So, while I have to say that I'll still believe Ubuntu will beat Android or iOS when I see it, I now feel that it is a real shot at being a viable number three smartphone operating system.

Remote or very remote?

Lawrence Dignan

In an odd twist for this debate, both participants wound up thinking that Ubuntu has a chance. The difference was whether Ubuntu for mobile has a remote chance or a very remote chance.

All things considered, I think Dawson got the best side of the debate. I don't think Ubuntu has much of a smartphone chance, but Dawson's argument is cleaner. And we all want a No. 3 platform, but your guess is good as mine on which one takes on that role.


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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