Ubuntu for Phones eyes-on

Has Ubuntu got what it takes to enter the mobile operating system meat-grinder?

By - January 10, 2013
Ubuntu for phones welcome screen on a Galaxy Nexus at CES 2013 thumbnail

Rounding up as many random passers-by as he can, Canonical’s community manager for Ubuntu, Jono Bacon, gets ready to demo the new Ubuntu for phones at their stand at CES 2013.

He was not allowed to let us try the phone for ourselves, so anyone that wanted hands-on time with Ubuntu Phone (including press) would have to go through a Canonical proxy.

Bacon explained that this is because they only have “5 or so” devices running the operating system at the moment and could not let them our of their sight (or control, it would seem).

As suggested by the promo shots, Ubuntu Phone is running on Galaxy Nexus devices.

Asked about their choice of development hardware, Bacon said that he couldn’t say exactly, but wagered a guess that it’s because the Nexus is so easy to unlock and deploy custom software to.

Jono Bacon

Jono Bacon

The Galaxy Nexus is also slightly older, Bacon said, which lets them target Ubuntu Phone for hardware that is more accessible.

He lines up the device under a small Sony camera hooked up to a TV that he’s using to do the demos while I get ready to take photos over his shoulder.

For the most part, Ubuntu for phones was exactly what Mark Shuttleworth presented during his “virtual keynote” when Canonical announced the device early in January 2013.

Ubuntu for Phones welcome screen on a Galaxy Nexus - CES 2013

Ubuntu for Phones welcome screen on a Galaxy Nexus – CES 2013

Bacon showed off the gesture-driven interface which uses swiping from the four edges of the display as follows:

  • Left: Shortcut bar with a button sporting the Ubuntu logo to go to the main hub of the device;
  • Top: Settings, swiping left and right to access various configuration menus without exiting the app you’re currently using;
  • Right: Switch through your currently open apps; and
  • Bottom: Bring up an app-specific control bar.
Ubuntu for Phone home screen on a Galaxy Nexus - CES 2013

Ubuntu for Phone home screen on a Galaxy Nexus – CES 2013

Ubuntu Phone’s home screen is a place where as much information and content relevant to you is aggregated in one place, Bacon explained.

It shows items such as frequently used apps, and new film releases it thinks you might be interested in.

Unfortunately the operating system was quite laggy, but it should be kept in mind that this is an early development build of the Ubuntu for Phones operating system.

It isn’t clear when the first Ubuntu Phone handsets will be available, though media reports suggest that the end of 2013 is the soonest Canonical will be able to bring devices to market, with a 2014 launch being more likely.

This casts some doubt over the endeavour, especially if you consider how much things change in the smartphone space during a year.

A glimmer of hope was that the schedule of Canonical’s boss, Mark Shuttleworth, was jam-packed for the duration of CES 2013 with “customer meetings” according to the folks managing his schedule and dealing with press queries.

Hopefully that means we’ll see an announcement of a manufacturer partnership with Ubuntu for phones sooner rather than later.

Ubuntu for Phones on a Galaxy Nexus - CES 2013

Ubuntu for Phones on a Galaxy Nexus – CES 2013

Ubuntu for phones announced

Apple, Google winning smartphone race

Android versus iPhone

Ubuntu for Android announced

Ubuntu on mobile devices – Shuttleworth

* Jan Vermeulen is a guest of Samsung at CES 2013 in Las Vegas

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