If you are wondering why Ubuntu, arguably the third most popular operating system for the PC, thinks it can take on Android, the top mobile OS also built on top of Linux – the answer may lie in two aspects – speed and a hybrid nature.
Ubuntu says its phone will be “blazingly fast” as, unlike Android, the applications do not run on top of yet another layer of software (Java Dalvik.) In other words, applications are ‘native’.
“With all-native core apps and no Java overhead, Ubuntu runs well on entry-level smartphones – yet it uses the same drivers as Android. So now it’s easy to bring a better experience to customers all over the world,” Canonical, which shepherds the Ubuntu community, says.
Of course, Ubuntu doesn’t really have to hunt around to find native apps – after all it has millions of computers running around the world, and has tens of thousands of native applications to support them. Developers do, however, have to tweak them to the phone-interface and to touch input.
But will the ‘power of the native’ be enough to help it compete with Android, which has about 300,000 applications already designed for it, and a market share of about 60%?
“Ubuntu isn’t limited to HTML5. Native apps are blazingly fast, taking advantage of the full capabilities of the phone’s processor and graphics hardware. And a mobile SDK does most of the work to give you that gorgeous, distinctive Ubuntu look and feel,” says Ubuntu’s introduction to the Ubuntu Phone operating system.
To be frank, the pictures do seem to look like every other smartphone interface out there — there are only so many ways you can organize a bunch of icons on a 5 inch display. But Ubuntu may have a fighting chance if phone hardware makers are keen to reduce their dependence on Android, or want to move away from Google, for instance.
But one of the big advantages of the Ubuntu Phone will be its hybrid nature. Attach it to a large screen display and a keyboard, and you’ve got a nearly fully-functional PC, with hundreds of thousands of stable and tested PC applications already available. It will also appeal to its fan base of a few million.
The phone will also support non-native, HTML5 based web-applications too using the Ubuntu web app APIs.
“Create gorgeous native apps or lightweight HTML5 apps easily with our SDK. Repurpose web apps fast, so they look and work like their native cousins. With one OS for all form factors, one app can have interfaces for phone and desktop – in just one upload to one store,” Canonical says.
Canonical hopes the Ubuntu Phone will be “the new thin client of choice.”
“Your Ubuntu phone can be managed with standard enterprise Ubuntu management tools that also handle servers, cloud infrastructure and desktops. Secure your infrastructure using Ubuntu’s browser and email client, delivering your legacy Office apps from your data centre,” it says.
Much of the rest of the description is as you would expect for a phone operating system targeted at sophisticated users — easy multi-tasking, apps, camera, a cloud back up service, social networking integration etc..
“A swipe from the right edge takes you back to the last app you were using; another swipe takes you back to the app you used before that. It’s natural to keep many apps open at once, which is why Ubuntu was designed for multi-tasking. No other smartphone lets you switch between applications this quickly.
“Page either left or right from the home screen to see the content you use most. A full left-to-right swipe reveals a screen showing all your open apps, while a swipe from the right brings you instantly to the last app you were using. Switching between running applications has never been quicker or easier,” Canonical says.