UBUNTU DEVELOPER Canonical has unveiled a version of the Linux operating system designed for smartphones, 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 well on low-end hardware as well as the latest high-end handsets.
Canonical VP of products and founder of Ubuntu Mark Shuttleworth said that the new mobile version of Ubuntu will enable the creation of the "superphone" able to run both web apps and native Linux applications 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 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 have so far committed to delivering an Ubuntu phone.
This might not matter so much to start with, as the system can be installed on existing hardware, according to Shuttleworth, who showed off the software running on a Google Nexus 4 handset.
But to gain any traction in the market, Canonical will eventually need to get mobile operators and handset makers on board.
Canonical sees two potential markets for Ubuntu phones: entry level devices branded for mobile operators where Ubuntu can offer better performance than Android, Shuttleworth claimed, or the "superphones" he outlined, 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 applications.
"Your average Android developer is already using Ubuntu, as it is the typical developer platform," said Shuttleworth, who said he expects these people to have no difficulty in supporting the new operating system.
The first handsets to appear will be using Ubuntu for Android, Shuttleworth said, and will use Android as the phone face of the device and Ubuntu linux 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. µ