Ubuntu coming to high-end smartphones during 2014

December 11, 2013
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Ubuntu phone now being guided by an advisory groupCanonical announced the launch of Ubuntu for phones back in January, but other than the unfortunate Ubuntu Edge episode there hasn’t really been much news about the fledgling mobile version of the popular Linux distribution. However, Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical and its product strategy leader, has now revealed that the company has signed its first agreement to ship Ubuntu on mobile phones!

We have concluded our first set of agreements to ship Ubuntu on mobile phones.
Mark Shuttleworth

Shuttleworth didn’t reveal who Ubuntu’s new OEM partner is, but he did say that Ubuntu will come to high-end phones during 2014. It also looks like this first deal is but one of many. “We are now pretty much at the board level on four household brands. They sell a lot of phones all over the world, in emerging and fully emerged markets, to businesses and consumers,” said Shuttleworth.

Ubuntu is designed to work on two types of smartphone, the entry level device which needs to have a dual-core processor and at least 512 MB of RAM, and the high-end that needs a quad-core processor with at least 1GB of RAM. The main difference between the two is that the high-end “Superphone” can also act as a PC when connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse! If this is the type of high-end phone that Shuttleworth is talking about then 2014 could be a very interesting year indeed!

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The mobile operating system market is becoming increasingly crowded and newcomers will find it difficult to make an impact. Besides Android and iOS, companies like Microsoft and BlackBerry are trying to increase their market shares while newer offerings such as Firefox OS and Tizen are trying to gain a foothold. Is there room for Ubuntu? Clearly Canonical  thinks there is. Along with partnerships with popular online services like Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote, Amazon and Pinterest, Ubuntu has a secret weapon. Thanks to the Ubuntu SDK, native apps can be written to work across all versions of Ubuntu, on the desktop, Smart TVs, Ubuntu tablets and Ubuntu smartphones. This is something that Google and Apple don’t offer and something that Microsoft has botched with Windows.

Canonical has done a good job of getting carrier endorsements. Networks like Vodafone, 3, EE, KT, SK Telecom, Verizon, Deutsche Telecom, T-Mobile, PT, and others have all endorsed Ubuntu for smartphones. These companies have all signed up to Ubuntu’s Carrier Advisory Group which lets mobile operators shape Ubuntu’s mobile strategy.

Shuttleworth sees mobile as a key part of Ubuntu’s future. Although Canonical isn’t profitable today it could be if the company just focused on its PC and server business and dropped mobile. However, Shuttlworth thinks that dropping mobile would give Canonical “a lifespan measured in years, not decades.”

Since Ubuntu is an open source operating system, and Canonical will share the code openly, and thanks to the Ubuntu SDK developers, carriers and manufacturers are already able to build apps for Ubuntu. The question is, will they?

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