Canonical announces first Ubuntu smartphone manufacturers

The first native Ubuntu smartphones are expected to be in customers' hands in 2014.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The wait is almost over. On February 19, Canonical announced that it had signed agreements with mobile device manufacturers Spain's bq and China's Meizu to bring Ubuntu smartphones to consumers around the world.

Ubuntu smarphone
The first native Ubuntu smartphones will be shipping this year.

In a teleconference, Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu and Canonical's founder, said that development programs have already begun with the partners to provide smartphones with a superior user experience on mid- to high-end hardware for consumers around the world. These devices will be available to buy online through bq, Meizu, and Ubuntu.com.

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Meizu is a successful high-end smartphone manufacturers with 600 retail stores and a global presence in China, Hong Kong, Israel, Russia and Ukraine. In January, the company announced its strategy to expand into other international markets as well as to ship phones in America later in 2014 and Ubuntu will be a key part of this expansion.

Bq is a European manufacturer of multimedia devices. In 2013, the company shipped almost 1.5 million devices and, in less than a year, has become the Spain's second biggest seller of unlocked smartphones. Bq will bring Ubuntu onto its latest hardware specifications. If that's correct, the first bq Ubuntu smartphone will use a 1.5 GHz Quad Core Cortex A7 as its processor. “Ubuntu’s ongoing success with PCs, as well as the huge support it has gained for its mobile proposition, provides the best opportunity to bring an alternative platform to market on our hardware,” said bq CEO Alberto Mendez in a statement.

Shuttleworth did not give any hardware details about these devices. He did say, however, that Canonical is working with these partners to ship the first Ubuntu devices on the latest hardware in 2014. Ubuntu has also received significant support from the world’s biggest carriers, some of which intend to work with OEM partners to bring phones to market this year. Engineering prototypes will be shown at Mobile World Congress (MWC) next week in Barcelona Spain.

Shuttleworth also noted that major carriers, such as Vodafone, T-Mobile USA, Deutsche Telekom, and Verizon, have all shown their support for Ubuntu and an alternative operating system for the mobile market. In the short term, Canonical's goal is to become the number three mobile operating system after Android and Apple iOS.

Mark wants the company to be more than number three in the long run. "We think convergence is the next disruption for the mobile market," Shuttleworth said. "We think you'll be able to do personal computing on any device, We believe we're better positioned to take advantage of this change than any other vendor and we think we can capitalize on this." He observed that the still-born Ubuntu Edge project showed that people want to be able to do computing in the same way on whatever device is at hand.

Shuttleworth also believes that Google with Project Ara and Apple with its 64-bit A7 iPhone processor also see convergence as the big disrupter for the mobile market.

As for the rest of the mobile OS competition, Shuttleworth doesn't think Microsoft Phone or Blackberry is well positioned to take advantage of this change. As for the Samsung-backed Tizen operating system, he doesn't see this Linux-based mobile operating system as being any kind of threat. Indeed, Japan's largest carrier, NTT Docomo, no longer plans to release a Tizen-based smartphone in the Japanese market.

He continued, Canonical is also working with a breadth of independent software vendor (ISV) partners, including The Weather Channel, GrooveShark, Evernote and more, to bring the best applications and services to Ubuntu. The goal, Shuttleworth said, was to have the top 50 Android and iOS apps running on Ubuntu when the device starts shipping later in 2014.

Shuttleworth concluded, “The mobile industry has long been looking for a viable alternative to those that reign today. Ubuntu puts the control back into the hands of our partners and presents an exciting platform for consumers, delivering an experience which departs from the tired app icon grid of Android and iOS and provides a fluid, content-rich experience for all.”

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