Canonical signs up first Ubuntu Touch OS maker, high-end phones coming in 2014

A mystery device maker has agreed to ship Ubuntu Touch OS smartphones, which will arrive next year.

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Canonical, the organisation behind the Linux-based Ubuntu OS, has signed up its first mobile hardware partner.

Canonical has been fairly quiet of late about its mobile operating system Touch OS, but the company has been making progress behind closed doors. According to founder Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical has signed up an unnamed company to use its OS — and will begin offering it on high-end phones in 2014.

"We have concluded our first set of agreements to ship Ubuntu on mobile phones," Shuttleworth told ZDNet's sister site, CNET. "We've shifted gears from 'making a concept' to 'it's going to ship'. That has a big impact on the team."

That's good news for the organisation, which in August failed to raise the £32m it was seeking on Indiegogo to launch its own high-end smartphone dubbed Ubuntu Edge.

The device would have run 'Ubuntu OS for Android' if it had reached its goal, making it different to Ubuntu Touch OS phone. Similar to other early-stage platforms, such as BlackBerry 10 and Finnish startup Jolla's Sailfish OS , the company was aiming to use the Android app ecosystem to make its own platform more appealing.

Shuttleworth said that Canonical makes no claims for Android compatibility. However, he said that the stretch for Android developers to support Ubuntu wouldn't be far off what it takes to support Android's fragmented device market. Apps for Ubuntu Touch will work on Ubuntu OS-based PCs.

Shuttleworth said Canonical was in "board level" discussions with four other household brands to carry the OS which, if it comes through, might help spread it to both developed and emerging markets.

Any Touch device bearing the OS would join a crowded field of OSes attempting to carve out a niche beneath Android and iOS, including Windows Phone, Firefox OS, Samsung-backed Tizen, and Sailfish OS, in addition to alternative Android firmware providers, such as CyanogenMod.

Similar to Mozilla's Open Web App-based Firefox OS, Ubuntu hopes developers and carriers will embrace its open approach. It's also established an Ubuntu Touch carrier advisory group , which consists of Germany's Deutsche Telekom, the UK's EE, Telecom Italia, Portugal Telecom, LG UPlus, Korea Telecom, and SK Telecom.

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