2013 came with a lot of surprises for Linux fans. Firstly, Canonical announced its plans for making Ubuntu Phone OS and secondly, it was revealed that the much-awaited Steambox will run Linux. While Ubuntu Phone’s demos generated a lot of hype amongst FOSS fanboys and fangirls, Shuttleworth’s ambitious plans have been brutally written off by tech bloggers. Techcrunch’s Alex Williams chimed in saying that the Ubuntu Phone OS doesn’t stand a chance. The Verge’s Vlad Savov, on the other hand, wasn’t as harsh on Canonical as Alex was; however, he did remark that Canonical was a bit too late in the mobile game. Also, many people have noted that the absence of a mobile carrier or a manufacturer is a huge handicap for Ubuntu considering how saturated the market is right now.
Of course, despite me being a Linux fanboy for years, I have to agree with almost all of the handicaps they have pointed out. Yes, Ubuntu has a lot of shortcomings and is entering the game probably at the worst time possible. In fact, there are more chances of the endeavor failing than of succeeding. Times are tough, and even Shuttleworth knows it. Furthermore, writing off Ubuntu Phone as a failure at this point seems like the easiest thing any tech blogger could do. I, however, hold a slightly different opinion on this. Being an optimist, I think that Ubuntu for phones has more than just a fair chance at the mobile market. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it might actually become a huge success at par with iOS and Android.
Not just any other phone OS
Looking at the demo of the Ubuntu Phone, many Android or iOS users will agree that what they see is way more intuitive than their own device. The omnipresent swipe action that lets you glide through menus and apps makes the phone quite appealing to the so-called ‘normal’ users. Also, the aubergine charms of its welcome screen are hard to ignore even if you’re the most hardcore iOS fan. In short, the Ubuntu phone is not some substandard product that is here to help small-scale manufacturers market their phones. It is here to target the biggies like Android and iOS, which is reflected in the quality of Canonical's design.
While we don’t know much about the phone’s performance when compared with Android, it’s safe to assume that Canonical will make the OS at par with its competitors by 2014.
There’s room at the top
There is no doubt that the top spot is absolutely packed. There are only two major players in this game, one is Android and the other is iOS. But that doesn’t mean that there is no room for a third or a fourth player here. Remember when Android started out it was dismissed by many users considering the immense popularity the iPhone enjoyed at that time. Look at the open-source OS now; it’s giving Apple a tough time. Times change; giants fall.
Another argument against the ‘Consumers don’t need a new phone OS’ is that Ubuntu isn’t actually targeting the general user base. It is targeting the enterprise customers who are in need of an unfragmented, reliable mobile operating system. It’s a market that would generate huge revenue for Canonical and hopefully propel its growth in other sectors as well.
It’s open source; hey, why not?
One of the biggest draws of Ubuntu Phone OS is that it is open source. If you see the mobile scenario right now, most manufacturers are churning out substandard Android devices for the low-end market. There are again small-scale manufacturers that are using Android to sell their devices in the hope that someday they’ll go big. The reason you see Android on so many devices is that it is being open-source any mobile manufacturer can use it on their devices and save money at the same time.
Ubuntu Phone might actually turn out to be a breath of fresh air into the market. Small-scale companies who are looking to market their devices might look at this OS and think of giving it a chance so as to stand apart from the crowd. Also, most of the major smartphone manufacturers including Sony, HTC, Asus, Motorola and of course Samsung all use Android. I’m sure at least one of these companies will see a bright future in the OS and use it for their next product.
Fragmentation-free openness, hopefully
Ubuntu Phone OS brings most of the Android goodness -- except the apps, of course -- to the users without the fragmentation. One of the biggest problems with Android is that there are many users who are still stuck at Gingerbread while only a few are enjoying the latest upgrade that is Jelly Bean. Shuttleworth knows about this problem, and I’m pretty sure he’ll be doing all he can to avoid it from happening with Ubuntu.
2014: It might actually be worth the wait.
If you look at Ubuntu’s trajectory for the past 2 years closely, it’s not that different from Microsoft’s vision of how their products will be. We are in the era of desktop-mobile convergence and every big company is trying to bridge the gap between various platforms. Microsoft, with Windows 8, took a bold step towards that goal by aiming for a unified user interface across multiple devices. If we look at Shuttleworth's vision, it is not that different from Ballmer's vision. They both are looking for convergence of all devices.
However, when it comes to convergence, Microsoft, so far, has left many unimpressed. Many say that Microsoft is too early in this game. And well, if that's true, then Ubuntu is actually heading in the right direction by waiting until 2014 to release a more mature product.
Written by: Abhishek, a regular TechSource contributor and a long-time FOSS advocate.