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Ubuntu faces tough task to tackle Apple and Android smartphone dominance

03 Jan 2013
Ubuntu phone devices

Canonical has become the latest vendor to launch itself into the highly competitive smartphone market with a mobile version of its Ubuntu Linux platform.

But is there any possibility of it making inroads against rivals such as Apple and Google's Android platform, when even software giant Microsoft is struggling to compete?

The Ubuntu offering differs from many other platforms in that it is essentially a smartphone user interface on top of the full-blown Ubuntu Linux build.

This means Canonical can claim its operating system is unique in covering the full gamut from phones to PCs to servers, all the way up to supercomputers.

However, success in the smartphone market is not going to come easily, and Canonical needs to not only attract end users, but also gain support from the handset device manufacturers and the network operators who will ultimately decide whether Ubuntu phones come to market.

In order to do so, Canonical is aiming at both the high and low end of the market, identifying niches that it believes are not currently being addressed by existing platforms.

At the low end, Canonical said it can offer better performance on lean smartphones than rivals such as Android. It believes this will appeal to mobile network operators, who are always searching for ways to offer compelling own-brand devices to customers without incurring the high price tag carried by many smartphones.

"This starter smartphone or operator-branded smartphone market is an area where Ubuntu will excel. We're confident we can deliver a better experience than Android here," said Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth, speaking at the launch in Canonical's London offices.

The other area where Canonical sees an opportunity is at the "superphone" end of the market, and especially in the area of convergence between mobile devices and PCs.

In this scenario, users will be able to use their Ubuntu device as a phone while out on the road, but when they dock it with a desktop monitor and keyboard in the office, it becomes their PC.

This is intended to appeal to large enterprise customers, who will be able to provide workers with a single device to meet both mobile and desktop requirements, using a remote desktop session to access a Windows session and standard corporate applications running in a datacentre.

"The fact that I can dock this and get a full desktop experience we think will appeal to many in the enterprise market," said Shuttleworth, adding that with Ubuntu's existing support for software such as Citrix clients, large organisations will be able to provision thin client access for thousands of users via a single device.

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Daniel Robinson

Daniel Robinson is technology editor at V3, and has been working as a technology journalist for over two decades. Dan has served on a number of publications including PC Direct and enterprise news publication IT Week. Areas of coverage include desktops, laptops, smartphones, enterprise mobility, storage, networks, servers, microprocessors, virtualisation and cloud computing.

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