Canonical announces its Ubuntu smartphone OS

In its infancy for quite a long time now, software maker Cononical today is taking the wraps off of the smartphone variation of its Linux operating system Ubuntu. The interface will be distinctly in the Ubuntu style, and have many features of other modern smartphone operating systems. There are edge gestures, disappearing controls, global search, voice commands and support for both native and HTML5 web apps.

Android Central @ CES

But Ubuntu for smartphones is more than just a phone OS, as it also provides a full desktop experience when the phone is docked to a mouse, keyboard and monitor. With the current specs of phones, its not unreasonable to expect a single device to be able to handle both a phone and desktop operating system when in each situation. Ubuntu is generally pretty lightweight, so it should run nicely while still remaining feature rich (unlike Motorola Webtop before it.)

Let's not forget that Ubuntu is also open source, giving plenty of options to later customization and tweaking by users as well as quick and free updates in the future. Canonical is holding an informational conference call to provide more details on the launch of its smartphone OS today, which should answer some burning questions. Canonical will also be showing off Ubuntu for smartphones at CES in under a week. In the meantime, take a look at the quick press release after the break.

More: Canonical

Ubuntu comes to the phone, with a beautifully distilled interface and a unique full PC capability when docked

London 2nd January, 2013: Canonical today announced a distinctive smartphone interface for its popular operating system, Ubuntu, using all four edges of the screen for a more immersive experience. Ubuntu uniquely gives handset OEMs and mobile operators the ability to converge phone, PC and thin client into a single enterprise superphone.

“We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions. Ubuntu is already the most widely used Linux enterprise desktop, with customers in a wide range of sectors focused on security, cost and manageability” said Jane Silber, CEO of Canonical. “We also see an opportunity in basic smartphones that are used for the phone, SMS, web and email, where Ubuntu outperforms thanks to its native core apps and stylish presentation.”

Ubuntu is aimed at two core mobile segments: the high-end superphone, and the entry-level basic smartphone, helping operators grow the use of data amongst consumers who typically use only the phone and messaging but who might embrace the use of web and email on their phone. Ubuntu also appeals to aspirational prosumers who want a fresh experience with faster, richer performance on a lower bill-of-materials device.

The handset interface for Ubuntu introduces distinctive new user experiences to the mobile market, including:

  1. Edge magic: thumb gestures from all four edges of the screen enable users to find content and switch between apps faster than other phones.
  2. Deep content immersion - controls appear only when the user wants them.
  3. A beautiful global search for apps, content and products.
  4. Voice and text commands in any application for faster access to rich capabilities.
  5. Both native and web or HTML5 apps.
  6. Evolving personalised art on the welcome screen.

Ubuntu offers compelling customisation options for partner apps, content and services. Operators and OEMs can easily add their own branded offerings. Canonical’s personal cloud service, Ubuntu One, provides storage and media services, file sharing and a secure transaction service which enables partners to integrate their own service offerings easily.

Canonical makes it easy to build phones with Ubuntu. The company provides engineering services to offload the complexity of maintaining multiple code bases which has proven to be a common issue for smartphone manufacturers, freeing the manufacturer to focus on hardware design and integration. For silicon vendors, Ubuntu is compatible with a typical Android Board Support Package (BSP). This means Ubuntu is ready to run on the most cost-efficient chipset designs.

In bringing Ubuntu to the phone, Canonical is uniquely placed with a single operating system for client, server and cloud, and a unified family of interfaces for the phone, the PC and the TV. “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” says Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and VP Products at Canonical.

Canonical currently serves the leading PC OEMs: ASUS, Dell, HP, and Lenovo all certify the majority of their PCs on Ubuntu and pre-install it in global markets. Over 20 million desktop PCs run the OS today, and Canonical estimates that close to 10% of the world’s new desktops and laptops will ship with Ubuntu in 2014. Ubuntu is also wildly popular as a server platform, the number one server OS on the key major public clouds and the leading host OS for OpenStack, the open source IAAS.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I hope this gets more people to try the desktop OS.
  • I plan to. Just gotta figure out how to triple boot it next to OSX and Win7.
  • You can use rEFIt or a newer version rEFInd these will help you triple boot. I use it to dual boot so I don't have to hold c or control down. I am using it w/ osx mountain lion and Linux mint 14. It gives you a nice GUI screen to pick which so you want to boot into.
  • The irony here is that a lot of people (including me) have already tried Ubuntu OS and found it unusable when they need to get some work done. Libre office, or whatever open office calls itself now is a joke. Playing movies is pain in the a$$. Thousands of apps in their store are even worse than more useless than most android apps.
    Yes, the UI is pleasant. I, for one, like unity desktop more than gnome. Web browsing is fast and safe. But I'm not an IT guy. And when I had a problem with it, the only solution was to use terminal, which I have absolutely no idea how to use, and I don't want to learn how to do it.
    I don't see it making people switch to Ubuntu from Windows/Mac
  • I +1 almost every single thing you said here. Only I *am* an IT guy. I just have a solid understanding of what a desktop OS is going to need to be in order for it to actually get the mainstream attention. Every time I use a desktop Linux distro I find myself appreciating Windows more and more.
  • yup, as an IT guy myself (software engineer) who uses both windows and linux, I basically agree with everything said above. It's not that linux/ubuntu/what have you is a *BAD* OS, it's the fact that it's no where near ready for prime-time with casual users. Windows and (to my knowledge of it) OSx try to make things as user friendly as possible, putting everything in a GUI. In linux, this is almost completely opposite. The GUI is no where NEAR as powerful as the terminal, and if you plan on using it for much more than web browsing, you can expect to be using the terminal at some point, which is very off-putting to the casual user.
  • Problem is diversity in projects and how they need to relay in order to work good, it hard to keep them insync. it is possible and ubuntu is proof of that before that linux was complete nerdfest, it just need time, just look how long way linux desktop gone thru.
  • Oh, no doubt. Linux has come a LONG way since the 90's. Like i said, it's not a bad OS by any stretch, in fact it's a very good one. The only issue is there's too many aspects of it that lack user friendliness, which makes it unsuitable for most casual users. If you could take the need to use the terminal out of it, i think that would bring it a long way towards making it ready for use among everyone, something canonical has done pretty well with Ubuntu. They just haven't gone far enough with it, because you're still going to need to use it.
  • Have you actually used a modern distro in the last few years? The idea that one needs the terminal is simply ridiculous. The difference is that you can actually accomplish common tasks on the terminal in Linux, not that you need the terminal to do so. I get tired of hearing this bit of misinformation. I find that Windows is the one that moreoften requires terminal usage for simple things, like using network devices. Show me how to use the GUI to release/renew an IP address on an interface, please.
  • Network and Sharing Center > Click on connections and then diagnose and repair
    it tries a number of things to fix your network interface automatically, including release and refreshing the ip address.
  • I'm typing this from ubuntu 12.04 LTS (my work PC, and i dual boot at home with some where in the 11-12 ballpark, haven't checked in a bit), so yes, i have used modern distros. Whenever I'm having an issue, the solution always seems to come from using the terminal, and never from anywhere within the GUI. In fact, I usual seem to end up using the terminal WAY more often than i use the GUI (for system related things), simply because as far as i can tell, the terminal is the only way to accomplish them. And, honestly, i use ubuntu on the side, not as my main OS, so there's a lot of things that i wish were more intuitive and required less use of the terminal, but every time i always end up coming back and using the terminal. Edit: To clarify, as i mentioned in my previous post canonical has taken great steps to remove the idea of "needing a terminal" from using linux, but, in my experience, they're very far from achieving this, as I still run into situations very commonly where i end up needing to use the terminal.
  • Yes linux have gui for lot of things but linux does not support everything.... that where requiremnt of hacks and terminal shows up. Thru linux might be hard first thing its need to be done is to attract developers, linux has userbase but most of this userbase dual boot with windows, as long they do that linux cant trust its own userbase
  • Agreed, while Ubuntu may work for the most casual of web users, or the most technical linux fans, it's not well suited for most people.
    I was a network administrator for several years, running RedHat based systems. I know my way around linux. Some of the knowledge is a little rusty as I'm now in a Microsoft shop. But every once and awhile I try the newest ubuntu or some other distro and what I found back then is still true, for a server I don't want anything other than linux, for a desktop I don't want anything other than windows. Configuring a web or email server, I don't mind going into the terminal because of the extra control it gives me. Trying to do normal daily tasks , I don't want to have to go into a terminal to fix something.
    Which still happens on Ubuntu not to mention that even on very fast hardware, Ubuntu as a desktop OS, is still significantly slower from a UI perspective than windows 7 on the same hardware.
  • As much as I like Linux in general and Ubuntu specifically, I have to agree with you. Whenever you run into a problem (and you *will* run into problems), finding a solution is a total crap shoot. I can't count the times I've searched blogs and message boards only to find that a dozen people have had the same problem, each of their solutions are totally different and yet not a single one actually works. No general end user wants to type obscure commands into a terminal, edit various .conf files or compile source code. More power to those who do, but most people just don't. Until Linux people really embrace that fact, it will remain limited as a general consumption desktop OS. I also agree on the available applications. I can respect people's commitment to, and the ideal behind open-source, freely available software, but the reality is that it takes money to develop a truly capable, truly user friendly application. Without money, most software ends up lacking in one or both of those respects. Compare any major open source application to it's closed source, for profit, equivalent - Libre Office to MS Office, Gimp to Photoshop, Blender to LightWave/3DS Max/Modo/Cinema4D, etc. and difference is plain as day. I would love to use Ubuntu instead of Windows, but the simple fact is that it's less capable when you factor in the quality and availability of applications. And I'm honestly not complaining, I do really like Ubuntu and always have it installed either on real hardware or a VM for the tasks it excels at. All that said, I do think Ubuntu on phones is a good idea. From their video, it looks like they put a lot of effort into the UI, as opposed to the me-too of endless screens of icons in a grid. And since I personally don't mind tinkering, I'm sure I could configure it much the same as I have Android (locally mounting and accessing my network shares, etc.).
  • I have used all three OS branches (Windows since 97, Mac OS X, and around 9 Linux distros) and the difficulty of terminal just isn't an excuse to attack Linux. Yes, text input is less intuitive than graphical interaction, but really, I have only had few instances where I needed to fiddle with the terminal unless I was doing more advanced stuff, such as complicated troubleshooting (which, if it happened on Windows, I would rather just re-install than deal with its convoluted terminal) and source compiling. If you want your new, shiny PC to "just work," get a Mac (kidding). For older hardwares and basic usage scenarios, Ubuntu is perfectly fine, and one could say the necessity of basic terminal knowledge can rather be an opportunity for consumers to find out just what the heck is going on behind those shiny windows and buttons.
    For programs, let's just say first of all that Ubuntu Software Store is just eye candy. Synaptic is probably the best package management tool for Ubuntu. Just like Windows programs, there are gems, but that means there is also rubbish. My usage scenario? I watch some videos on YouTube (Firefox or Chromium), listen to music (online or with programs like Rhythmbox or Banshee), edit some essays with LibreOffice (which, by the way, is NOT part of OpenOffice project), maybe watch a DVD (VLC) and edit my sheet music (MuseScore). If I have audio projects, I could do some rough sketches with Ardour (A stable, full-feature DAW is something Linux still needs). All these programs are functional enough for me.
    Something you didn't mention is the driver issues, which, frankly, there isn't much to do when the hardware is closed. There are open-source drivers for most of available hardwares, but when there isn't....
    P.S. Just give terminal a go. Even if you're gonna keep using Windows or Mac OS, basic knowledge of how terminals work in general can help you out when things go way south on your computer. I know it did for me.
  • Sorry, but tell my 65 year old mother to "Just give terminal a go". Spoiler alert: ain't gonna happen.
    THAT, is why Linux has still not made any significant in-roads into the home user desktop market. Most Grandmothers can barely navigate MS Windows to check their emails. I have to keep a LogMeIn account active so I can constantly get my mother through basic PC issues. Can't see her using any Linux distro. Bring up a command line and my mother is getting up to go feed her cats.
  • Everything you said here is extremely accurate, I find myself going back to linux due to its powerful terminal and rarely find a need for a GUI, would be nice if people actually tried to learn the terminal and better them-selves technologically instead of reaching for the mouse every time a prompt appears
  • The irony is that you obviously have not tried lately Linux/KDE.
    By far the most customizable, functional and eye candy OS combination I have tried in the Linux world.
    There you have multiple desktops with different set of widgets and wallpapers, different activities, tabbed apps inside other apps and so many other things that are absent on the closed virus-ridden windows world.
    Everyone that has tasted this desktop experience looks at Windows with disdain.
    And btw VLC and XBMC rock on Linux and watching movies on Linux (as well as organizing your whole movie library) is a pleasure.
  • AWESOME!!!
  • Looks like what Android 5.1 would be.
  • I hope google does copy some of the features... ubuntu for phones looks awesomely intuitive, but it kinda reminds me of windows phone in how its limited. Android is just so extensive in what it can do and be, I think I will always prefer android. but... bring side swiping and the search in the notification shade and the maximizing screen space (on screen buttons- im looking at you) to android and it would be so much better!
  • Except canonical actually knows how to support an OS. They don't use open source as an excuse to stop support for devices that haven't come out in the last year.
  • But if manufactures did use it, then they'll likely modify it like Android (Sense, TouchWiz, Blur, etc) and thus result in the same problem as Android when it comes to updates.
  • I would love to see this evolve into much of what we have on the desktop - where you can install Ubuntu on almost any hardware with a single (from a select few) installers - as long as I know my architecture (X86, for example), all I need to do is choose 32 or 64 bit, and one ISO can be installed on pretty much every X86 PC I have, notebook to netbook to desktop to HTPC. I understand why, but I still think it's ridiculous that you can have two virtually identical Android phones, save for one being CDMA and the other GSM, and the OS is almost entirely incompatible between the two. It would be like having to totally reinstall Windows because you swapped one network card for another. I just think there needs to be a little more abstraction between hardware drivers and the rest of the OS. Different or new hardware is found? Search a repository and install it on the fly. As much as people want to insist it doesn't exist, Android fragmentation does exist and is a problem. Having it so difficult to upgrade that most phones never see a single major update is absurd. My 5 year old iPhone 3G is on a comparatively more current version of iOS than my flagship Android phone of just 1.5 to 2 years ago. At this point, I think I'd rather have Ubuntu on my existing phone than upgrade to one of the latest Android phones because I'll be in the same boat in 6 month's time - 1 to 2 versions behind, and likely stuck there forever.
  • You should grab a Moto Razr or Atrix or Bionic and a few of the accesories before they go away. I have just about all of the docks and the mouse and will be set for quite a while once I can get a stand alone install of this going. I already have an older version sitting side by side the Android/WebTop already on it and it ran decently well with only having access to half the resources... these 3 phones were built for this type of usability!!!
  • Makes me want this on my nexus than android. Holy crap I can't wait since the device they are showing is on the galaxy nexus :)
  • That's pretty neat. Can't wait to see it in the wild.
  • Sadly for Canonical and Ubuntu fans, this project has very little chance of success. The smartphone OS market is saturated (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry) and ultra competitive. Ubuntu lacks brand recognition within the general public and Canonical does not have nearly enough resources to try and compete with Apple, Google, Microsoft and even RIM.
    At best it might be a play for a very small niche of the market for smaller phone OEMs or a DIY option for unlocked Android phones.
    Still, I admire Canonical for trying.
  • I think if the desktop works well, we'll see more people going from Android and WebOS to Ubuntu than maybe we hope to admit. I bet it will catch on pretty quick.
  • Its all about casuals.... and most of them dont have idea what linux not to mention ubuntu that is only portion of it. Without that its hard. Other thing is developer support, no apps = no users which Windows Phone proofs. Also its not first linux mobile platfrom and not first try of canonical entering this market, all of them except android failed
  • Exactly. The only way I see this succeeding in a big way is if OEMs and carriers picked it up and mucked it up like they have with Android.
  • Carriers is not a problem.... they don't making phones. US carries practices mixed things in your head :p At the end they don't have any control over mobile software, they can just plug in if they want to. Apple don't let carries infest iOS, either decide over firmware distribution, yet they sell them. If they decided not to sell, OEMs will sell unlocked, in some countries they forced to by regulations. I'm in Poland and most phones you can get from any electronic store unlocked and you can plug any SIM you like. For me whats happening US market is crazy and rediciles and for me it funny how US people think it's strange how Nexus 4 is being sold without dealing with carrier... here is a normal thing :p
  • Sadly, I think I have to agree. Though I do hope that we are wrong. Sometimes it is not about what is best, but who has the leg up in the market, and the $$$ to push the product to all the right channels. That said, this could be the next serious contender out there if enough of the grass roots gets behind it and that excitement carries over to businesses and the average joe consumer. My concern is that they are making their huge selling point that this is all part of the PC experience as well... however, Ubuntu has far from knocked Windows from its long standing desktop dominance. Heck, even WITH that Desktop dominance, MS can't get its mobile OS to sell well. I also applaud Canonical for trying, but this doesn't look like it will be a happy ending for them. With Android also having Linux as its core, I think they may have done better if they stayed on the path of doing some sort of joint venture with Android. I can see a great many people saying... "And I would pick this over Android (or iOS).....why?".
  • The only thing it really has much chance of doing is getting Google to move a little faster on integrating Chrome OS and Android (i.e. Android normally, Chrome OS when docked). I can't see this ever getting enough market share to matter... even Mozilla's attempt has more chance of succeeding than this.
  • Why Chrome OS? It's very limited software, insted of doing that they should make desktop layout for Android, much more effective way
  • Pretty much this. What android did and how it took over the world by storm was a complete anomaly in how things like this usually work. The absolute best this can hope for with extremely optimistic outlook is maybe match BB10 or WP8, and considering the brand recognition on those two, that in and out of itself will be a miracle.
  • Apple was born in a garage, Microsoft was born in a small business, and many other things became powerful without brand recognition. Just because there's a fierce battle in the mobile world, doesn't mean that something that doesn't come with a billion dollar supporter doesn't necessarily mean it's dead on arrival. I think it has a shot, mainly because it's most likely the best user interface I've ever seen, especially in the mobile space. And even if Ubuntu wasnt on multiple form factors, this would already have me sold!
  • That was then, this is now. MS and Apple came on the scene when there really was NO scene. Comparing yesterday with today it total apples to oranges. As others have said, the one who really did something amazing by breaking into the big-boy club was Google with Android. But Google was a household word with their search engine before they got behind android (which is why they always would say, "Android, by Google", to give you the immediate recognition). Sadly, Ubuntu is NOT a household word to the vast majority of computer users.
  • thanks for the post... definately been waiting for ubuntu to come out with a mobile os... just not sure of what will happen to the mobile market now that there will be ubuntu/android/ios/windows8/bb10/webos/chrome and developers would have to get their apps compatible with all of those operating systems and then all the devices too...
  • looks like mobile nations is getting another nation... can i host and write???
  • Looks pretty cool! At the end of the day it comes down to the content and apps. I see them partnering with Amazon for video, books, and music while support comes in from ports/app development.
  • I would definitely give it a try.
  • But will it have live wallpapers?
  • This is awesome!!!!!
  • If I can dual boot with Android that would be amazing.
  • I've always liked the concept of the Motorola webtop, if not the execution. Now that chromeOS is working on ARM processors, I wonder if Google will bring the concept back but with chromeOS vs. the Motorola webtop.
  • well the ubuntu has shade of every OS(iOS, android, W8 n BB10)in it.. i guess for ubuntu to be successful they should tie up wid samsung. samsung has a huge market followers n thus they can make phones suitable to this software. looks nice in the video but cant tell abt it untill its tried n tested.
  • I like where Ubuntu is going with this, although I'm a bit skeptical on how they will execute their OS... (App ecosystem, marketing, phone production, etc.) We all know RIM & MS are struggling compared to the behemoth's of Android and Ios thus I'm sure Ubuntu is WELL aware of what they need to do to be a contender in the mobile arena.
    --I'm a bit optimistic :) For the average consumer, the selection of apps MUST be available in order to achieve a satisfactory user experience, If they can't do it right, Ubuntu's Mobile OS will flop, simple as that. Will they go with worldwide OEM's (HTC, Huawei, Sony :O) for their chassis or will we see an in house model to market?
    ---I would love to see HTC or Huawei take advantage and market the hell out of this device; it could possibly give HTC some redemption from the market loss this past year. I always felt that at this point of time, we NEED to see a new mobile OS on the rise. As much as I love android (loyal fan since the pre-cupcake days), I believe it is time for a bit of competition. :) Consumers such as myself will benefit from this! The focus seems to be centered around left and right gestures to demonstrate multitasking within a smartphone. Although its intuitive, i'm still wondering if there are any plans to offer some sort of personalized customization's for the OS or will it be a forced stock UI experience for its users. Overall, I'm mildly curious :) btw... The OS is at its infancy, remember Android at its infancy (1.x)
    I would love to see Ubuntu's mobile OS 2 years from now.
  • Cant wait to test this out on my nexus. But imo i think they should get the desktop version working 100% before they spread out to more platforms. Ive been wanting to use ubuntu but i can't get the latest version installed on my pc due to stupid video drivers. Ive installed previous versions and always had some stupid driver issue especially with the mouse jumping all over the screen and freezes.
  • I'm definitely not well versed in Ubuntu, but I think most of the mud slinging (although accurate) forgets one thing... "We can do pretty much everything on a browser now " How many applications do you actually run outside of a browser? I know it won't be all of them, but for commercial success, creating your program as a website is pretty much a necessity these days. I'm pumped. I'd do it in a second.
  • Doesn't look half bad, tho I do favor Fedora over Ubuntu as a desktop OS personally.
  • He lost me when he called it magical.
  • Oh, crap. Want.
  • I so cannot wait for them to release the ubuntu phones, I am a huge ubuntu geek
  • In some ways, this is similar to KDE's Plasma Active . It should be interesting to see how it would work on tablets and phones, especially compared to Plasma Active. I have a hard time believing any company would endorse it for phone use (which they seem to be pushing the most) since that market is already so dominated by Android Linux and iOS. Plus, phone carriers have such huge power when it comes to controlling the "blobs" that are necessary to interact with their cellular networks, this would make getting on approved handsets very challenging. KDE Plasma Active is a standard layer (window manager/tools/apps) on top of any Linux and X11. This brings the "full" Linux experience to a Plasma Active device. However, it appears that "Ubuntu Linux for Phones" is probably not using X11 at all (I have been digging but can't find much useful info). If so, is this is creating yet another incompatible ecosystem? It reminds me very much of Android apps not running on standard Linux desktops, standard Linux apps not running on Android, Metro apps being separate from MS-Windows 8 desktop apps, iOS apps not the same as MacOS, etc. I would think the one big advantage of such a project would/could be application ubiquity, had they cared about that (granted different modes of operation would be necessary). But perhaps my expectations just don't match who they are targeting? Does this tie into their "Ubuntu Linux for Android" in any way? ( ) What is Canonical's stake in this? Advertising dollars? Licensing deals? Skimming profits from another marketplace under their complete control? Is this a closed-development project? Lots of questions. Very interesting stuff, though.
  • I'd rather stick a needle in my own eye before using Unity on my phone. I switched from Ubuntu to Elementary OS, which btw is still in beta, and I never looked back.
  • This looks interesting. Might not necessarily be for me, but I can see some of those features making their way to other platforms. Especially the notification settings shortcuts.
  • Maybe on a tablet. Not on a phone. They're definately in the prime phase of, "look how cool our interface is." If history is any indicator, that means it really isn't all that useful to actually get stuff done on it in real life. -Suntan