The year 2013 is gearing up to be the year of the mobile OS. It seems like just about everyone has their hands in the pot of making a fresh new mobile OS. Firefox OS, Jolla, Tizen, Windows Phone, Android, iOS, and a generous amount of open source projects make up a large list of mobile OS contenders. The newest member on this growing list is Ubuntu.
Canonical, the parent company of the popular Linux based desktop Ubuntu, recently announced their plans to enter the emerging mobile OS market. The company plans on rolling out mobile devices powered by Ubuntu some time in the later portion of this year.
While Ubuntu is making its mark among its 20 million plus desktop users, it has has some problems getting hardware backed by its OS into consumers hands. However, the bigger issue may be with the handset manufactures themselves, are they ready to embrace yet another mobile OS? Can it fit into an already crowded mobile OS marketplace?
Ubuntu phones will be the new kids on the block, but how will these devices stand up to RIM's new BlackBerry 10 devices.
Under the hood
Its a little early to compare the hardware components of each device but, Canonical expects its high-end “superphone” to have a Quad-core A9 or Intel Atom processor, with a minimum of 1GB of RAM, and multi-touch screen. Those are some nice specs that just a few years one could never imagine being on a smartphone. BlackBerry 10 devices are set to match and exceed those specifications upon launch.
Ubuntu phones will not just be another “Android” phone. Yes both run on Linux, but even RIM's BlackBerry 10 is based off Linux\Unix with QNX. So to call it just another Android phone is just bad taste. Ubuntu has already provided many with a great desktop experience, and they want to converge that into their handsets. While that is not grounds to assume that they will make a great smart phones, it does give them a slight edge with OS experience. So with so much similarities within the underlying OS what is it that separates one from the other?
A proven track record is something that typically sets one apart from another. Certainly Canonical is no stranger to building OS'es, but neither is QNX the force behind BlackBerry 10. Both have proven themselves as industry standards, one has to dig a little deeper into the technical garden to expose what will really separates these two devices.
Microkernel vs monolithic kernel. The kernel is the main component in computing it bridges application interaction with hardware. The way in which the kernel behaves is an important part of the stability and levelness of an OS. One of the biggest advantages that the QNX based platform BlackBerry 10 will have, is the use of the microkernel. Using microkernel allows for BlackBerry 10 devices to run process outside the kernel, allowing for much better stability. If Ubuntu follows suite with a traditional monolithic kernel based approach then, we could see some greater instability within their devices.
BlackBerry Flow, perhaps the heart and soul of RIM's next generation smart phone, will allow for seamless transitions between apps. The ability to seamlessly transition from application to application is something that gives BlackBerry 10 a huge advantage over its competitors. Ubuntu plans on providing its mobile users with its own version of “flow” by making each edge of the mobile device available as an action. Meaning each side of the phone will provide some sort of action.
The smart phone has become personal again. Mobile device makers are now catering to the personal needs of end users; trying to mold their devices into a unique personal experience rather than an entertainment hub. Both RIM and Ubuntu are taking note of this. The main idea behind RIM's BlackBerry Flow is to provide a time saving, seamless, UI. Early visuals of the Ubuntu phone also show a flow like environment that allows for users to quickly and seamlessly navigate around their device.
BlackBerry Hub is another great feature that RIM has has been working hard on. BlackBerry Hub is more than just a centralized message folder, it brings all of a users messages to any place they might be on the phone. Ubuntu phones will have a welcome screen that will “evolve” based on the way that users interact with the phone. This welcome screen will also combine messages and allow for a unique user experience. “See every message as it comes in and reply in an instant; just swipe down from the top when a new one arrives and respond..” says Ubuntu's makers.
With arms wide open
Its uncertain who will embrace the Ubuntu's new phones. One thing that is for certain is that the new phones will have a tough time competing with companies that already have their market share staked out. Canonical is aware of these challenges, and will be focusing their efforts on select markets to start with. RIM has a little less to worry about as they already have a large user base that will most likely upgrade their new BlackBerry 10 phones.
In the end its a bit premature to determine whether or not Ubuntu phones will be a success or a threat to RIM's BlackBerry 10 devices. The company stated that they “are confident that Ubuntu will ship on phones from large manufacturers in 2013,” If this is true we can expect a very crowded smart phone market this year.