Ubuntu Phone – Connecting the Dots

The thought of running Ubuntu on my phone has crossed my mind a time or two this past year and now it looks like this may be feasible in the near future.

As great as the Ubuntu Phone sounds, I have to consider how this is going to be successful in today’s mobile market.


The good news is smart phone usage is up in many regions. Almost half (49.7%) of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones. According to Nielsen this marks an increase of 38% over last year as in February of 2011 only 36% of mobile subscribers owned smartphones. This growth is driven by increasing smartphone adoption, as more than two-thirds of those who acquired a new mobile device in the last three months chose a smartphone over a feature phone. As illustrated below, Android continues to dominate as the favorite smartphone OS.

Ubuntu Phone 1938-020

On the down side, while smartphones have gone mainstream in the US adoption among emerging countries is still developing. According to new research from Nielsen, China is the only country among the high-growth BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) markets where smartphones are predominant (as of the first half of 2012). In contrast, feature phones which are not suitable for Ubuntu are still dominant in India, Russia and there’s no clear favorite type of mobile device in Brazil with mobile ownership split between feature phones and smartphones.

Other entrants to the 2013 party

When the Ubuntu Phone becomes available it will not be the only new Linux entrant to the party.


Tizen is an open source software platform targeted to devices such as smartphones, tablets, netbooks, in-vehicle infotainment devices, and smart TVs. The Tizen project resides within the Linux Foundation and is based on HTML5. Tizen has confirmed hardware support from Samsung.


Sailfish is a Linux-based operating system for smartphones and other mobile devices.It traces its history to the highly praised MeeGo OS by Nokia. SailFish has confirmed support from the Chinese retailer D.Phone and Finland’s third-largest mobile carrier ST-Ericsson.

Firefox OS

Firefox OS is a mobile operating system developed by the Mozilla’s Boot to Gecko (B2G) project. It uses a Linux kernel and boots into a Gecko-based runtime engine which lets users run applications developed in HTML, JavaScript, and other open web APIs. Mozilla has confirmed hardware support from ZTE who has announced plans to offer a Firefox OS phone in 2013 with details to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress.

The Importance of Apps

There are now more than 675,000 apps available from Google Play, a figure worth noting as it means Android is within striking distance of overtaking iOS as the mobile operating system with the most apps.

For reference, Apple announced there are 700,000 apps in the iTunes App Store during the iPhone 5 launch event on September 12th.

Ubuntu Phone 1938-025

10 Most Popular iOS Apps for 2012

  • Google Drive – cloud
  • Google Chrome – browser
  • Clear – To-do list
  • iPhoto – organize and manage your photo
  • Google Maps
  • Fantastical – calendar
  • YouTube
  • Checkmark – reminder
  • Spotify for iPad
  • Tweetbot for iPad

* Source: Slash Gear

10 Most Popular Android Apps for 2012

  • Google Now
  • Google Drive
  • Flipboard
  • Catch Notes
  • SwiftKey 3
  • Xbox Smartglass
  • WhatsApp Messenger
  • TripIt Travel Organizer
  • Smart Tools
  • SlingPlayer

* Source: InformationWeek Mobility

Typical Smartphone Activities

All of these choices begs the question, what are folks doing with their smartphones? Here’s the lowdown.

Ubuntu Phone 1938-030

* Source: Compiled by AnsonAlex.com

Putting the above into perspective, other than great hardware what characteristics does the Ubuntu Phone need to exhibit to be successful at launch?

Great at its intended purpose

Although the statistics illuminate other things folks do with their smartphone the primary reason for purchasing a phone is to place and receive calls. Above all else the Ubuntu Phone must manage incoming and outgoing calls superbly. I assume this is still under development as call management was not showcased in any of the demonstrations I am aware of.

Reflecting on my own habits, here’s a distilled list of call management functions I would like to see.

  • log all accepted, missed, and rejected incoming and outgoing calls
  • link calls to my contacts if the contact is found
  • permit acceptance or rejection of incoming calls
  • manage audio such voice volume and ring tones
  • provide and manage call notifications

Contact management is an area where Ubuntu Phone can shine. Realizing Ubuntu One supports contacts I prefer to use Google as I am a Gmail user. Offering users the choice of where contacts are kept would be a plus.

In addition to a fantastic call experience the Ubuntu Phone must be able to speak all of the other communication dialects. As a communication device this includes WI-FI, BlueTooth, NFC, and USB.

Notifications, Alerts, and Replies

Notifications and alerts can come from a variety of sources; incoming calls, new emails, weather alerts, low power notifications, text messages, social networking pings or messages. I believe this is an area where the Ubuntu Phone will excel.

The Critical Mass of Apps

There is simply no way Ubuntu will build in the foreseeable future the kind of app stores enjoyed by Google and Apple. Is a 600K or 700K app store required for success? No, but there is a critical mass which must be achieved for lift off. I am going to break these down into two categories; core and enhancement.

Core Apps

By definition a core app is an app that is so closely associated with the OS it defines the OS. The orchestrated execution of core apps characterizes the user experience and as such these apps should either be developed by Canonical or under close Canonical supervision.

Contact Management

Notification and Message Management

Camera and Photo Album Management

Internet Browsing

Music Player

Video Player


Enhancement Apps

By definition enhancement apps improve the user experience by adding extra features and functionality. Pulling from the Google and Apple app store top 10, I would add the following.

Weather and weather alerts

Google Maps

Google Drive

Other Really Nice Apps

A short list of Apps I consider optional but really nice include the following.

Google Now

Flip Board

Select Games

Wrap Up

The lesson here is the market waits for no one and Android and iOS users will not change to a user experience less than what they currently have. The concept of using your phone as a computer is certainly compelling but isn’t this functionality available today with Android and the Galaxy Nexus HDMI Portrait Desktop Doc? Granted this does not offer the type of central management a Ubuntu device will provide and this may be a compelling reason for organizations to consider this solution instead of BlackBerry.

No matter the angle you view this, the Ubuntu Phone will be Canonical’s greatest challenge. Sculpting the right mix of out of the box apps rooted in a solid Ubuntu foundation delivered at the right moment could result in an overnight success story we haven’t seen in this market for some time.

I am very excited about the possibilities.

6 thoughts on “Ubuntu Phone – Connecting the Dots

  1. The same arguments could have been made when Android entered a market dominated by Apple and the iphone. We can all see how that turned out.

  2. So do you not consider messaging to be a “Core App”?

    I really hope that Ubuntu Phone like Maemo comes with a full Telepathy stack and makes messaging (no matter if its SMS, Skype of Jabber) a first level citizen.
    Having 3 different messaging Apps installed and running, is what really annoys me about Android.

  3. You can’t compared Android to Ubuntu. Android came to solve a problem which non-Apple players (almost everyone else) was facing. Android gave such players a platform to enter the smartphone market. There is NO such problem. Canonical is not brining any thing new or unique to the tablet. They are brining too less, too late — they are doing nothing more than mee too and they are doomed to fail.

  4. Pingback: OTR Links 02/04/2013 « doug – off the record

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