New Ubuntu Phone OS for Smartphones and Tablets

by Dale Wright

Next week, a brand new mobile operating system will be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. Ubuntu Phone is a version of Linux modified to run on mobile devices.

Canonical, its developers, say that Ubuntu Phone will run on almost any smartphone or tablet – from budget handsets through to top-of-the-range slates.

Ubuntu Phone is an evolution in mobile OS, because users will be able to use desktop applications on their phones. However, this will only work when the phone is docked to a computer running Ubuntu. No other operating system currently offers true cross-compatibility between mobile devices and desktop computers, and power users are likely to enjoy the ability to have a second screen.

When the phone isn’t docked, users will need to use Ubuntu Phone apps – and that could be a problem. The software will launch with just five apps, including Gmail and Facebook, and it doesn’t seem likely that Android apps will be compatible. Users will have to rely on the developer community to come up with more apps made specifically for the Ubuntu Phone platform.

The touch screen interface used for Ubuntu Phone is the same technology that RIM will use in its upcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system. However, the OS itself is built on top of the basic Android kernel. That means Ubuntu Phone can also be used to completely replace Android on existing devices; one of the first builds released in February will be a version for Google’s own Nexus 7.

Linux laptops have been moderately successful in the US as the software is free. That allows retailers to sell the devices at a lower cost. It’s therefore likely that Ubuntu smartphones will be as affordable as Android, if not cheaper, but it’s unlikely the OS will take off unless the amount of apps dramatically increases.

Ubuntu’s new smartphone could go head-to-head with the new Firefox OS which is due to launch this year – it will also be compatible with Android phones. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until late 2013 for Ubuntu smartphones to hit the shelves, although ROMs should start to appear for existing devices within the next three months.