As promised, yesterday Canonical unveiled the first version of their Ubuntu smartphone operating system. The new OS takes many design cues from the desktop version of Ubuntu Linux, but uses a much different interface designed from the ground-up for use on a smartphone.
Like the ill-fated Meego OS that we saw on the Nokia N9 and the BlackBerry Tablet OS, the Ubuntu phone OS is all about swiping. Thumb gestures will play a big role, with swiping in from each of the four sides of the screen having a unique function. For example, swiping from the left will bring up a dock of your favourite apps, while swipes to the right will allow you to swap between apps. The swipe-heavy approach means that there’s no home button, virtual or otherwise, in use.
While the hands-on video posted by The Verge shows some stuttering and speed issues, it’s important to note that that the OS is still in its early days and will no doubt see some major improvements in the next year of development. The 60 second concept video shows some of the features off at full speed, and I’ve got to admit that it does look quite good.
The Ubuntu phone OS is built around the existing Android kernel and drivers, and should therefore be compatible with a existing Android phones on the market. While Canonical are demoing the new OS on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus – and they will be releasing the OS for that device soon – we should eventually see a much wider range of other phones supported, including phones running both ARM and x86 processors.
We’ll also see entirely new sim-free smartphones ship with the Ubuntu phone OS. These will appear in 2014 and will be made by a “high-end” Android device manufacturer. Canonical is also in talks to partner with other Android vendors to ensure that their OS runs well on their phones.
Canonical haven’t forgotten about Ubuntu for Android, which they announced almost eleven months ago, either. That service, which offers a full Ubuntu desktop OS when your phone is connected to a compatible dock, mouse and keyboard, is still expected to be available sometime this year.
So, all in all it’s quite exciting news from the most popular developer of desktop Linux. If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, be sure to try out the new OS when it is released sometime in the next month.