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Canonical reinvents Ubuntu as 'converged' smartphone OS

Impressive interface but no handset partners - yet

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Canonical has announced a '"converged" development of the Ubuntu operating system designed to run on smartphones, allowing such devices to perform the role of a desktop PC when docked with a monitor and keyboard.

Featuring a smartphone-oriented version of the Ubuntu interface, the Ubuntu phone OS is in many ways a logical if unconnected development from last year’s idea to embed the Unity GUI on Android handsets.

That project appears to have stalled for lack of support from handset makers and mobile carriers but despite being equally unsupported - Canonical has not yet named any hardware partners - the new software does at east develop a distinctive theme.

According to the company, it will allow handset makers to converge phone, PC and thin client into a single device and do so as a way of offering an alternative to the near hegemony of Android, Apple and Microsoft.

“We expect Ubuntu [phone] to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions,” said Canonical CEO, Jane Silber.

“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,” she said.

As an aid to handset makers, the software is compatible with the Android Board Support Package (BSP), which meant that the OS could be easily ported to the same smartphone designs built for Android.

As has been a running theme for Ubuntu, the software was also less demanding on the underlying hardware, a feat it had achieved by dispensing with the need to run a Java virtual machine on which apps run in the style of Android, Canonical said.

Another strong point could be the innovative interface, which reflects the system’s multi-function ambitions. Thumb gestures from the left brings up an app tray while doing the same from the top engages Ubuntu’s search function – see the demo video for more detail on this.

Judging from the demo videos and screenshots, Ubuntu on smartphones could offer some competition to the staid but hugel;y popular icon-driven interfaces of Android and the iPhone.

The critical juncture could be the April 2014 (14.04) release, after which a single Ubuntu image will run across all classes of device, be that desktop, smartphone or tablet, the company said.

In the short term, the company is likely to get more feedback from interested parties at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

“We are defining a new era of convergence in technology, with one unified operating system that underpins cloud computing, data centres, PCs and consumer electronics” said Canonical founder and VP of products, Mark Shuttleworth.


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