Instead of going after both the tablet and smartphone with a newly-improved touch-enabled version of Ubuntu Linux, Canonical will be focusing its efforts in 2013 on smartphones.
While the smartphone interface is clearly based on Ubuntu's Unity interface, it's not just the same old desktop shrunk down to a smartphone. According to Canonical, the smartphone Ubuntu will use "all four edges of the screen for a more immersive experience. Ubuntu uniquely gives handset OEMs and mobile operators the ability to converge phone, PC and thin client into a single enterprise superphone."
“We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions. Ubuntu is already the most widely used Linux enterprise desktop, with customers in a wide range of sectors focused on security, cost and manageability” said Jane Silber, Canonical's CEO in a statement. “We also see an opportunity in basic smartphones that are used for the phone, SMS, web and email, where Ubuntu outperforms thanks to its native core apps and stylish presentation.”
This new version of Ubuntu will be "aimed at two core mobile segments: the high-end superphone, and the entry-level basic smartphone, helping operators grow the use of data amongst consumers who typically use only the phone and messaging but who might embrace the use of web and email on their phone. Ubuntu also appeals to aspirational prosumers who want a fresh experience with faster, richer performance on a lower bill-of-materials device."
At the same time, this isn't just a smartphone operating system. Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's community manager, added on his blog. that "Ubuntu for phones is not just limited to just the Operating System on the phone screen itself. Ubuntu also has the technology, as demonstrated with Ubuntu For Android, to boot a full Ubuntu desktop from the phone when it is docked with a screen. This provides a complete Ubuntu experience in your pocket, for both your phone and your desktop, with a clean consistent look across both screens, and with all your content available on your phone and desktop using Ubuntu One. This is revolutionary."
The Ubuntu handset interface will include the following features:
1. Edge magic: thumb gestures from all four edges of the screen enable users to find content and switch between apps faster than other phones.
2. Deep content immersion - controls appear only when the user wants them.
3. A beautiful global search for apps, content and products.
4. Voice and text commands in any application for faster access to rich capabilities.
5. Both native and web or HTML5 apps.
6. Evolving personalized art on the welcome screen.
Bacon added, "The design and implementation of the phone is beautiful You can immediately tell it is Ubuntu; the Unity mobile experience looks clean and consistent with the desktop and touch is stunningly integrated. The Ubuntu for phones experience is designed to make all your phone content easier to access and your apps more immersive – every edge has a specific purpose, making all your apps, content and controls instantly accessible, without navigating back to the home screen every time. It’s a uniquely, beautifully converged experience."
For better or worse, Canonical will also be offering "compelling customization options for partner apps, content and services. Operators and OEMs can easily add their own branded offerings. Canonical’s personal cloud service, Ubuntu One, provides storage and media services, file sharing and a secure transaction service which enables partners to integrate their own service offerings easily."
This offering isn't aimed for smartphone modders Instead, it's for OEMs and carriers. "Canonical makes it easy to build phones with Ubuntu. The company provides engineering services to offload the complexity of maintaining multiple code bases which has proven to be a common issue for smartphone manufacturers, freeing the manufacturer to focus on hardware design and integration. For silicon vendors, Ubuntu is compatible with a typical Android Board Support Package (BSP). This means Ubuntu is ready to run on the most cost-efficient chipset designs."
Bacon added, "To be quite clear, this announcement is not for a physical Ubuntu Phone that you can purchase yet. The announcement is for the Ubuntu for phones platform that we are presenting to handset operators and OEMs as a solution that they can bring to market. The Ubuntu phone offers great performance on handsets with a low bill of materials, while opening up new opportunities for phone and PC convergence at the top end of the market. This is no mockup or flash demo though; this is a real platform, and you have to see it in action…it really is stunning."
That said, according to Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and VP of Products at Canonical, "Users with unlocked phones, starting with Galaxy Nexus phones, will be able to run Ubuntu."
Shuttleworth also believes that "Canonical is uniquely placed with a single operating system for client, server and cloud, and a unified family of interfaces for the phone, the PC and the TV." And that, “We are defining a new era of convergence in technology, with one unified operating system that underpins cloud computing, data centers, PCs and consumer electronics." Specifically, Shuttleworth, in a press conference, said that eventually "a single Ubuntu image will be able to run with a smartphones, tablet, TV, or desktop face." He hopes that this universal version will be available in April 2014 with Ubuntu 14.04.
In a press conference, Shuttleworth added that he's well aware that smartphones is a "hotly contested" area but he believes that Ubuntu has unique advantages for both end-users and developers. "We have ample evidence of interest from both carriers and OEMs." Shuttleworth added that Ubuntu for Android will ship in 2013 will ship from a brand-name phone vendor. Ubuntu for smartphones is expected to ship in the last quarter of 2013 or first-quarter of 2014. Canonical will be showing off this new spin on Ubuntu at CES in the next few days.