Canonical pushes Ubuntu 'superphone' as PC alternative

Ubuntu gives hardware makers ability to converge phone, PC, and thin client into a single mobile device

Canonical today revealed Ubuntu groomed for smartphones, aimed at giving Android some open source competition on the mobile front. The company is pitching the Ubuntu smartphone as a convergence device: a single, secure device that docks to become a full PC and thin client, which enterprise IT departments can adminster via standard management tools.

"We are defining a new era of convergence in technology, with one unified operating system that underpins cloud computing, data centers, PCs, and consumer electronics," said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and products VP at Canonical.

In a video touting the platform, Shuttleworth described how the OS makes full use of a phone's screen, providing access to content and apps from every edge. For example, he demonstrated how a short swipe from the left edge reveals a user's favorite apps. What's more, a full left-to-right swipe opens a screen showing all the applications that are running. Swiping up from the bottom edge of the phone reveals app controls.

Ubuntu Phone's native applications cover telephony and voicemail, SMS and MMS, email, Web browsing, photography, music, and video. Other features include an all-inclusive inbox that provides access to emails, texts, calls, and social media posts. When a new message arrives, you can swipe down from the top and respond directly to Facebook, Twitter, email, texts, and calls.

The OS fully supports HTML5, and HTML5 apps written for other platforms can be adapted to Ubuntu with ease, according to Canonical. "We're targeting standard cross-platform Web app development frameworks like PhoneGap to make Ubuntu 'just work' for apps that use them," according to the OS product page.

Beyond supporting HTML5, Ubuntu provides a native developer environment that uses QML, which aims to support development of native apps with engines in C or C++, and JavaScript for UI glue. The QML toolkit and sample application are available for download today. Also provided: full native OpenGL, popular among game makers.

According to Canonical, Web applications on the OS have the same access to system notification as native apps. Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps, Gmail, and Spotify apps are all available, according to the company, and there are Web app APIs aimed at helping developers install their sites as full applications. "Our unique Web app system lets you quickly adapt any Web property for installation as an app on the phone, running independently of the browser, with its own icon and access to system services," according to the company. "With an extensible cloud framework on every Ubuntu device, you can deliver custom services to your audience that fit neatly into a global cloud ecosystem."

Users also can run their local Ubuntu apps and remote Windows apps on the phone, effectively turning it into a thin client, according to Canonical. Ubuntu phones can be managed via standard enterprise Ubuntu management tools, alongside servers, cloud infrastructure, and desktops.

Canonical provided the system requirements for two versions of the Ubuntu smartphone. The entry-level model uses a 1GHz Cortex A9 processor, 512MB to 1GB of memory, 4GB to 8GB of Flash storage, and multitouch support. The high-end "superphone" runs quad-core A9 or Intel Atom, and it has a minimum of 1GB of memory and a minimum of 32GB of flash. In addition to multitouch, it supports desktop convergence.

According to Canonical, Ubuntu has already been adapted to run on chipsets using the ARM and Intel x86 architectures relevant for mobile devices, with the core system based around a typical Android Board Support Package. The upshot: Hardware makers who build handsets that run Android will have little trouble adopting Ubuntu, says Canonical.

This story, "Canonical pushes Ubuntu 'superphone' as PC alternative," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.