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[Discuss] Ubuntu Phone

Jay Kramer wrote:
> The Ubuntu phone looks interesting

I saw the video. Pretty slick. Always good to see more innovation in UI

I did notice that it fell into one of the common UI design traps of
rearranging things in the UI automatically in response to how frequently
you use them. (Paraphrasing) "Your most frequently used apps will appear
here, and your most frequently contacted people will appear there."

I get why designers do this. It can be useful when handled properly and
used sparingly. But generally, dynamically changing navigation is a
losing approach to learning and efficiently using a UI.

I'd be curios to know if anyone has inside knowledge as to how Canonical
is staffing this endeavor. Did they bring in a whole new team, or have
the desktop Ubuntu developers been reassigned to this?

If you're a power user of Ubuntu, and were hoping with desktop Unity
well fleshed out for the novices, that they'd return to their roots and
do some UI work for the developer community, it seems highly unlikely.
(Or more so, as it already was highly unlikely.)

  According to Mark Shuttleworth..."2013 will be all about mobile -
  bringing Ubuntu to phones and tablets." To do that, he said, Canonical
  will include more mobile developers in the Ubuntu ecosystem while also
  further tailoring the Unity interface to work well on mobile hardware.
  Shuttleworth also wrote about the cloud as a second key area of focus
  for the Ubuntu community in 2013.

  ... cloud computing based on Ubuntu is simpler because Ubuntu provides
  (theoretically) a complete ecosystem for developers and
  administrators: "Having the same core tools and libraries from your
  phone to your desktop to your server and your cloud instances makes
  life infinitely easier."

...except the desktop UI design is driving away developers.

Seen in the comments to that article:

  Vanessa Deagan Says:
  I have a gut feeling that Canonical are going to neglect Ubuntu on the
  desktop as a result of its new highly focused efforts targeting
  mobile. I really hope I'm wrong here, as Microsoft has just released a
  disaster with Windows 8, leaving a huge vacuum in the desktop OS
  space. With the likes of Steam and other game developers now taking
  Linux (in particular, Ubuntu) seriously, Canonical are in a very good
  position to fill the void.

Rich Pieri wrote:
> I foresee problems with it commercially. Cell phone generational cycles
> are a study in planned obsolescence. A top of the line device will be
> trailing edge within 9 months and obsolete within 18 months.

In a recent Debian Newsletter the Debian developers cite the wide
variety of mobile hardware as an impediment to porting Debian to it:
  Paul Wise documented how to install Debian on smartphones: while
  this is technically possible, the process is complicated by the fact
  that the Linux mainline kernel doesn't run on many mobile devices and
  the Debian Linux kernel maintainers prefer not to include non-mainline
  patches. Paul concluded by saying that "the procedures I documented
  above are not a great way to support mobile devices at all and could
  break at any moment anyway. So everyone, please become a kernel
  developer and help merge all of the many many versions of Android
  Linux into Linux mainline so that you can have your favourite
  distribution on your devices".

But this is hardly a problem for Canonical. They wouldn't be trying to
run Ubuntu on all the existing mobile devices. They'll contract out the
manufacture of a purpose-built device, and will be able to control the
design and life-cycle of the hardware.

That's the easy part.

The hard part is how do they get the carriers to play along? How do they
tell a story to them that make Ubuntu on mobile devices sound compelling?

The two most compelling aspects of Ubuntu on mobile devices are:
1. the new UI design;
2. the ability to plug your phone into a dock and use it as a portable
desktop environment.

#1 alone will never cut it. People raved about HP's WebOS UI and it went
nowhere. Lots of people like the Windows Phone UI, and it'll go nowhere.

The reality about UI design is that it isn't defensible intellectual
property. Despite design patents, the compelling ideas will still get
copied in some fashion by the other platforms. (Google gets lots of
blame for copying from iOS, but the reverse has happened as well.)

#2 isn't exactly unique. We've seen a few examples of this already
(Motorola Atrix). In common with those other examples, the Ubuntu mobile
environment is going to start by asking most users to switch their
desktop environment to a new platform, which will be the first big
barrier to entry.

But more importantly, the end result is a device that appeals to a more
technically literate audience than the mainstream, and necessitates a
more open device than the carriers are typically comfortable with.

Would you want your main "desktop" to be an Ubuntu install where you
have no access to root and have to live with the bloatware installed by
your carrier? (The people who are OK with this are also the same people
who don't really care what desktop they are using, and thus care little
about the ability to "bring it with them." "As long as I can login to
Gmail, I'm good.")

Until the stranglehold that carriers have on the mobile hardware space
is broken, an Ubuntu smartphone is a non-starter. Canonical doesn't have
the weight of Apple to bend things to their will.

Their best hope is to see the emergence of wholesale wireless data
carriers, at which point they can offer a device that isn't locked to a
carrier. Maybe Canonical plans to approximate this by becoming their own
MVNO (a carrier that resells service from someone else's physical network).


Tom Metro
Venture Logic, Newton, MA, USA
"Enterprise solutions through open source."
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