The First Ubuntu Phone is Already Obsolete
About two years ago, Canonical – the company behind the open-source Linux distribution known as Ubuntu, announced Ubuntu Edge, a smartphone that would transform into a full Ubuntu PC when plugged into an external monitor.
Canonical needed $32,000,000 in funds to produce the phone/computer combo, and the company tried to raise the money through an Indiegogo campaign. However, the campaign was unsuccessful and barely received 40% of the required funds. Ultimately, the Ubuntu Edge was nothing more than vapourware. However, it seems like an Ubuntu-powered phone is still coming soon, but with multiple caveats.
This is No Ubuntu Edge… Not Even Close
The first Ubuntu phone that will actually be produced is a repurposed Aquaris E4.5, a mid-tier phone that typically runs Android and is manufactured by a little-known Spanish company called bq. The phone will initially only be available in Europe, sold online through a series of flash sales. With its somewhat cheap price tag of €169.90 ($195 USD), the E4.5 features pretty unremarkable specs – a 4.5 inch 540×960 resolution display, 1GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, 8-megapixel back camera, 5-megapixel front camera, and a 1.3 GHz quad-core processor. However, as Cristian Parrino, vice president of mobile at Canonical, told Engadget, these phones are meant for early adopters, not everyday consumers.
“We are going for the mass market… but that’s a gradual process and a thoughtful process. That’s something we’re going to be doing intelligently over time — but we’ll get there.”
One of the things that sets the Ubuntu phone apart is also one of the things that may prevent the platform from being successful. There are no apps on Ubuntu phone, at least, not exactly. Instead, Ubuntu is relying on a concept called “Scopes,” which is basically a card-based curation of content from various services, somewhat similar to Google Now. Most apps on Ubuntu phone (if they can really be called “apps”) are essentially just fancy HTML5 webapps. Explaining how Scopes work exactly in just words is tricky, so here’s a video instead:
The problem is, most smartphone users are accustomed to seeing a grid of native app icons. It’s a system that has been proven to work for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Furthermore, HTML5 webapps just don’t work that well compared to native apps. It didn’t work for WebOS and it hasn’t worked for Firefox OS. Even Apple experimented with relying on HTML5 apps before launching the App Store with iPhone OS 2.0.
All in all, the world’s first actual Ubuntu phone seems pretty underwhelming, especially when compared to the original concept of the Ubuntu Edge. However, the mobile/desktop convergence that Ubuntu promised is still “part of our future vision,” says Parrino. But for now, the Ubuntu phone is not much more than an awkward, mid-tier handset with limited developer support.
Images from Canonical.