The tech world went nuts yesterday over the announcement that a phone version of the popular Ubuntu OS was being developed for release in early 2014. That gives Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu, a year to establish hardware partnerships and develop the mobile operating system to compete head-on with Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
This can only be good news for the consumer because it means more competition. Competition is always a positive thing. The initial hands-on videos look extremely promising, provided that Canonical can mitigate the lag that currently exists on ports made to Galaxy Nexus phones. It has one year to do it, and with a device made specifically for the platform, this isn’t an impossibility.
For low-end devices, Ubuntu has long been a great alternative, allowing users to extend the life of their hardware without sacrificing functionality or the gloss that comes with a modern OS. This could translate well to the mobile world as users seek out less expensive alternatives to popular smartphones.
This move is more likely to hurt Android than iOS as both Ubuntu and Android exist over a Linux kernel. Android has the backing of some major forces in the tech world with established relationships with content creators. Ubuntu doesn’t. It’s a platform that has long been shunned by commercial content providers and essentially treated like the third wheel of the desktop OS world. If Ubuntu wants to compete with Android or iOS, it need to establish a relationship with mainstream content creators and distributors. Apps like Netflix would need to run on the platform, and thus far Ubuntu (and other Linux distros) have long been out of support due to content creators resisting support for DRM on a platform they feel is more prone to piracy. At least, that’s what it would appear to be.
Ubuntu does have a distinct advantage here. It isn’t Android, and that alone might appeal to OEMs seeking an alternative to an OS largely targeted by Apple and other corporations. It’s less tied to Google, which is another big advantage for users who don’t want to have their digital life run by a single corporation. It’s more open, and less tied to Google’s ecosystem.
Amazon could very well adopt Ubuntu Phone OS over Android as it weighs its options. Ubuntu is more open and possibly more flexible for companies like Amazon that prefer to put their own interface on top of a platform that gives their users more functionality. Certainly turning a smartphone or tablet into a desktop computer is an appealing proposition.
Android’s big draw has long been that it’s more open than Apple or Microsoft’s platforms. Having another big Linux platform in the market can change that dynamic very quickly and offer users more choice without giving up their open operating environment.
What do you think? Could Ubuntu be the next big player in the mobile market? Would an operating system that converts from mobile to a full desktop platform be more appealing than iOS, Android, or Windows Phone?