Just as the Smartphone world seemed to have settled into Apple and Google camps two new competitors have appeared on the horizon, Ubuntu for Android and Tizen Linux. These two new upstarts are vying for the space inside our smartphones.
Both have very recently released new impressive versions of their operating systems that promise to give your smartphone a new personality, and both will have handsets ready during Q4 2013.
Complete convergence from smartphone to supercomputer is a dream held by many operating system (OS) developers. Canonical, the overseers of Ubuntu Linux, also dream of one OS to rule all hardware, Ubuntu for Android is the first step towards this grand dream.
Ubuntu for Android is the first step in Canonical’s plans to span every aspect of our computing lives. Operating in Smartphone mode Ubuntu includes a new take on gestures backed by a slick interface, plug the phone into its desktop dock and the phone will boot up an entire desktop setup. Plug it into a TV and Ubuntu boots into Ubuntu TV with its media centre interface that’s perfect for big screen TV’s.
Samsung Nexus 3 is the current demonstration phone for Ubuntu, a download is available for those with an unlocked Galaxy 3 that wish to test out the new Ubuntu.
This initial version of Ubuntu for Android operates alongside Android in a symbiotic relationship. As both operating systems share the same Linux kernel Ubuntu sharers all of Androids resources, with both operating systems also able to access your data; address book, calendar etc. The native Ubuntu handsets won’t require Android to operate.
Canonical have turned up to the mobile phone party with many tricks up its sleeve. The most impressive of which is their very clever docking station desktop mode. When docked the phone will boot into desktop mode running full blown Linux with a full screen monitor, keyboard and mouse.
The Canonical strategy of using an ARM processor for desktop computing is a brave step. It does allow convergence to happen, with the same device capable of mobile and desktop duties. While the rest of the world has been trying to shrink an Intel x86 chip into a smartphone Ubuntu is riding the wave of Linux on ARM development. With the power available in a quad core ARM chip they might be onto something.
Two types of application will be supported by Ubuntu for Android, HTML5 mobile apps will operate on both the phone and desktop while ARM optimized Linux applications will live only on the desktop.
Ubuntu have kept the interface consistent across all platforms through the use of its initially divisive Unity interface, the interface looks impressive and seems to work well on the smaller device. Unity it turns out is a long term win after a short period of pain. What was a radical change for the Linux desktop seems to fit perfectly on the small screen.
The addition of gestures to the Unity interface is receiving positive press, with new thumb gestures from each edge allowing quick access to high level menu’s, apps and settings.
Unity will also help Ubuntu avoid the market fracturing suffered by Android. Handset manufacturers will be able to include their own applications and possibly skins in order to customize the handset for their network.
Ubuntu may have busted the convergence equation by forcing ARM onto the desktop but they haven’t cracked the cross platform issue. Ubuntu on ARM processors will not run x86 applications without the use of emulator software. This is not a huge problem as much of the x86 Linux library of applications are being optimized for ARM, Linaro.org are supporting this effort.
Ubuntu won’t be the only new Linux Smartphone operating system this year. Tizen should begin to appear on Samsung phones late in 2013, Samsung likes the idea of having a backup plan. The Google+Motorola combination may have Samsung concerned?
Strangely Intel is also backing the Tizen Association which has demonstrated version 2.0 of the operating system. Rumours are that Samsung, one of the major investors, will have a Galaxy 4 model pre-installed with Tizen ready for the second half of 2013.
Ubuntu for Android has already captured much attention with their first announcements, previewing an interesting option for those who can live the Linux life. Especially if Samsung’s interface is getting a tad annoying or is your Nexus 4 not special enough anymore? Now there is a new solution to bling it up with a dose of Linux, be it Ubuntu or Tizen.