16 April 2012

Can Ubuntu Phone Compete?

Ubuntu Phone
The common perspective at the moment is that the smartphone market is saturated by iOS and Android with any scraps being gobbled up by Blackberry and Windows Phone.

A different perspective is that device manufacturers love the freedom that Android affords but they don't like the fact that it's getting difficult to differentiate their devices. Android has a monopoly over the open phone OS market at the moment.

OEMs can build their own OS, which has huge cost implications and will likely fail to garner any popularity (think bada). They could use a proprietary OS like Windows Phone, they’d avoid large initial development costs, marketing costs and would drastically reduce support costs but they’d have to pay Microsoft on an ongoing basis. Or they can opt for the well supported, regularly updated and very popular Android. It’s not a difficult choice.

MeeGo, in my opinion would have been an excellent open phone OS competitor but Nokia of course, decided to drop it in favour of Windows Phone. Its successor Tizen doesn’t seem to be going anywhere either. Strange decision by Nokia but here we are with Android dominating the market and no signs of that changing anytime soon. Enter Ubuntu Phone; why on Earth would that be able to compete with the big names?
Ubuntu for Android

Ubuntu Desktop has a 20 million+ strong user community but that’s still not the kind of numbers OEMs are interested in. They have a few thousand apps but again that’s negligible in comparison and majority of those apps won’t work well or even at all on a small screen, low spec device. So what’s the selling point?

Firstly unlike Google, Canonical is an OS company, that’s what they do and they do it well. And unlike Microsoft they’re open, in fact more open than Android, I’m not going to go into the reasons for that right now though. So they can make a great interface but so can everyone and their uncle these days, what sets them apart?

Canonical have developed the “Unity” interface which was named specifically to indicate the intention to unify all form factors with one recognisable operating system. Ubuntu will use the same interface for the desktops, tablets, netbooks, phones, TVs and probably eventually in-vehicle-infotainment systems, home automation systems and who knows what else.
Ubuntu TV

It’s a great selling point to be able to move seamlessly between recognisable devices but the real attraction is the interoperability; the fact that I can take a photo from my phone and view it on my TV without having to think about it. The glue that ties this all together is the Ubuntu One cloud storage service.

This interoperability will extend to Android as well with Ubuntu for Android and even to Windows using an Ubuntu One app. No matter where you are, what device you’re using you’ll have access to your content. Some will also find comfort in the fact that you won’t be subjected to an Apple-esque walled garden, you own your device and the content on it.

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