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Canonical brings Ubuntu to the smartphone

02 Jan 2013
Ubuntu for smartphones

Ubuntu developer Canonical has unveiled a smartphone version of the platform, adding support for touchscreens but otherwise offering users the same full-blown Linux experience on a phone handset as on a PC.

Ubuntu for phones will target both ARM and x86 processors, according to Canonical, and has been designed to run on both low-end hardware and the latest high-end handsets.

Canonical vice president of products and founder of Ubuntu Mark Shuttleworth said that the new mobile version of the platform would enable the creation of the "superphone" able to run both web apps and native apps equally well, allowing users access to a broad range of applications.

Additionally, Canonical hopes to appeal to the enterprise market by offering a single device that can serve as a phone when employees are out on the road, but deliver a full desktop experience when docked and connected to a desktop display, using a remote desktop client to connect to Windows virtual machines running in the datacentre, for example.

"The fact that I can dock this and get a full desktop experience we think will appeal to many in the enterprise market," he said.

However, while Canonical is talking to many handset makers and network operators, Shuttleworth conceded that none had so far committed to delivering an Ubuntu phone.

This may not matter so much to start with, as the platform can be installed on existing hardware, according to Shuttleworth, who showed off the software running on a Google Nexus 7 handset.

But to gain any traction in the market, Canonical will eventually need to get mobile operator and handset maker customers on board.

Canonical sees two potential markets for Ubuntu phones; entry-level devices branded for mobile operators where the platform can offer better performance than Android, Shuttleworth claimed, or the "superphones" outlined above, for professionals and the enterprise market.

Apps are also important, and Canonical claims that Ubuntu is compatible with existing HTML5 apps such as those from Google, while a developer toolkit is set to launch within days to enable developers to build native apps.

"Your average Android developer is already using Ubuntu, as it is the typical developer platform," said Shuttleworth, who said he expected these people to have no difficulty in switching to support the new platform.

The first handsets to appear will be using the Ubuntu for Android platform, Shuttleworth said, where Android is used as the phone face of the device and Ubuntu when docked on the desktop. However, he expects the first full Ubuntu phones to ship by the end of this year or early next year.

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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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