The battle for control of the smartphone universe is shaping up to be a very interesting one, with not one, but two new operating systems about to pit themselves against the likes of Android and iOS.
Earlier this week we learned that Samsung was set to throw its weight behind its new Tizen operating system, tying up a deal with Japan’s NTT Docomo to release the first Tizen-based smartphone later this year. This was followed by an even more intriguing move from Ubuntu – the favorite Linux-based OS for open-source fanatics – which yesterday announced that it too was entering the mobile fray.
Ubuntu developer Canonical unveiled its new interface yesterday, re-imagined for touchscreen devices with a design that borrows aspects from both Android and Windows 8. But where it differs is that Ubuntu doesn’t just run on mobile devices – dock your phone or tablet to a keyboard, mouse and monitor, and it will run the full desktop variant of Ubuntu, powered entirely by your smart device.
It’s not an entirely new concept, as we have seen many hybrid Windows 8 devices that offer similar functionality. But Ubuntu is the first developer to offer a complete desktop and mobile OS in one package. While Windows 8 comes with lots of smart apps, it’s essentially still a desktop-centric OS, and Android, for all its desktop-like features, is still strictly a phone and tablet-based OS.
But will Ubuntu’s system bring enough to the table to make inroads against the major players – iOS, Android and Windows?
Sadly, it probably won’t, but not because of the actual product. The problem is that Ubuntu just faces a massive uphill battle to win over users that are so ingrained into the Android and iOS culture. To be able to carve out a niche in the mobile space, Ubuntu will require a solid user-base and it will need to attract a lively ecosystem of app developers – something that Samsung might be capable of doing with Tizen, but would seem to be beyond Ubuntu’s abilities.
Realistically, the odds are stacked against Ubuntu. At best, it might be seen as an inexpensive enterprise solution for a handful of cash-strapped companies and start-ups, or something of a plaything for the most enthusiastic of Ubuntu devotees.
This is a shame because Ubuntu could actually be onto something here – the very future of computing. With technology becoming smaller and smaller, and our demands for mobility growing with each and every day, it’s not hard to imagine a future where smartphones will become the central ‘brain’ for all our computing needs, with users simply plugging them in then shoving them in back in their pockets when it’s time to move.
Ubuntu’s solution for mobile and desktop convergence is every bit as valid as the one offered by Windows 8, it’s just unlikely to be one that’ll catch on with Ubuntu leading the charge.