Section 508

August 6th, 2013

Will the Ubuntu Edge be the future of mobile devices?

Ubuntu-EdgeEarly this year Canonical announced a smart-phone interface for Ubuntu, one of the most popular linux distributions currently available, called Ubuntu Touch. The intention was to unify the interface you use across all platforms, from PCs to tablets, and now to mobile phones.

So, what’s so special about this new OS?

The main points are:

  • Gesture edge to edge controls.
  • This enables a user to switch between applications, settings and notifications with a simple gesture.
  • Full screen content
  • All applications take up the whole of the screen allowing content to be the main focal point.
  • HTML5 having more power
  • By enabling applications to be built in HTML and offering more power, developers won’t be limited by the browsers integration.
  • Ubuntu’s global search functionality
  • Allowing users to search applications, content and products in one place.
  • The ability to run a full desktop OS from your phone
  • With this feature you can plug your device into a monitor, keyboard and mouse to run a full version of Ubuntu Desktop.

So who is Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is an open source Linux distribution, Linux comes in many custom configurations, Ubuntu is one of the most popular. As the software is open source it means hundreds of developers can edit the code to implement new functions, fix bugs, create software and generally expand the user experience without the need for licensing fees. It offers all the functionality of windows or iOS but with different software. So if you generally use GIMP over photo-shop, or libre office over Microsoft office (although you’re not limited to this), the main difference is all the software automatically gets updated to the latest version free of charge as it’s open source.

What is Ubuntu Edge?

Ubuntu Edge is a concept phone, a very high end device targeting enthusiasts, early adopters and enterprises. What the team at canonical are doing is crowd-funding a project which is causing quite a stir. This concept means that only those people willing to pay up front for a phone, due to be delivered April 2014, will get their hands on the device that will be tailor made for the new operating system.

A couple of the main hardware features worth bragging about are the sapphire crystal display, and the silicon-anode Li-Ion battery. Sapphire crystal displays are currently only found covering your camera lens on most phones, and some high end watches. It’s one of the hardest substances known, the only way to scratch it is with a diamond, so no more need for screen protectors,
The Silicon-anode Li-Ion battery is a bleeding edge technology designed to have a much higher capacity than your standard lithium batteries and, as a result, is capable of almost ten times the energy capacity.

The current specifications are:

  • Dual boot Ubuntu mobile OS and Android
  • Fully integrated Ubuntu desktop PC when docked
  • Fastest multi-core CPU, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage
  • 4.5in 1,280 x 720 HD sapphire crystal display
  • 8mp low-light rear camera, 2mp front camera
  • Dual-LTE, dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4, NFC
  • GPS, accelerometer, gyro, proximity sensor, compass, barometer
  • Stereo speakers with HD audio, dual-mic recording, Active Noise Cancellation
  • MHL connector, 3.5mm jack
  • Silicon-anode Li-Ion battery
  • 64 x 9 x 124mm

So why should you look at getting an Ubuntu Edge?

If we look at some of the smart-phone handsets currently on the market, what sets them apart? We have Android, windows phone, iPhone and blackberry. If we look at each one of these types of phones one stands out, the iPhone. It hasn’t got the highest specifications or the best features, but what it does have is hardware built to run the operating system. This provides a smooth user experience which, according to sales, is a major user requirement.

People complain about android and its fragmentation. Windows phone is gaining momentum, but once a greater selection of devices are released this may be the same for them and blackberry… The devices have been so outdated in recent years they they’re not even featured in most roundups. The latest Blackberry 10 is better, but I think it will have a hard time, as it’s main competitor is currently windows phone, and that is only likely to get bigger and better with time.

So the Ubuntu Edge will be specifically designed to run the new Ubuntu Touch operating system, and will also have the power to run the Ubuntu Desktop at a similar speed to a low end laptop. For those of you which have already used Ubuntu know, it is a version of Linux which is generally more stable and faster than any other operating system currently on the market.

What’s the future of mobile computing and how does this fit in?

Original computers were used to do basic calculations., Then, it moved on to communication for universities and geeks such as myself. As the potential of this was realised, the Internet was born and devices became a household norm. Early this century these devices were shrunk into what we know as the modern day smart-phone. From this point on we’ve been trying to make our portable devices cater for all our needs, implementing touch screens, faster Internet connections, cameras and applications ranging from 3d games to how to correctly boil an egg.

Recently there has been a boom in cloud systems, where everything we need gets put into the cloud for private or public use. This is designed to bridge the gap between devices. The next stage in this evolution is to physically bridge the gap, and that is what canonical is planning with the new OS and a high end device.

Canonical isn’t the only one who sees this as the future. With the release of windows 8 and windows mobile, we can already see a strong suggestion that Microsoft is getting ready to launch a similar system, covering mobile, tablet and desktop.

What benefits does this give us?

As application developers, we’re really excited at the idea of creating an application which will evolve as you change platforms. The ability to install an application on your desktop, and to then unplug and walk off using the same application on a mobile device allows us developers to provide a one size fits all policy.
The way current websites adapt, to cater for the platform you are viewing the site on, will cross over and move into applications. Plug into a TV and you get a remote friendly interface, plug into a system with keyboard and mouse and you get an interface that knows you can be more accurate with the mouse and display more information. In later models the ability to plug into a tablet and get a larger touch interface and finally use it on the smaller screen of the phone, will give you one device for all your needs.

A few years ago everyone was talking about how the web will replace applications and everyone will be in the cloud. In Canonical’s vision, applications take a step towards the flexibility of websites, but with the Ubuntu Edge, is should have the hardware to back it up.

If this is the next big thing, then what comes after that?

This is only the start of the system. Imagine the first smart-phone in 2001 compared to today’s handsets, they have grown to be hundreds of times more powerful than then, imagine the devices 10 years from now. Even through the desktop as we know it is on the decline, these devices are not designed to completely replace the desktop PC, but what could happen is, this single mobile device will plug into all your other systems and use the hardware around it.

So, if you are into graphic design, you walk to your desk and the drone terminal wirelessly links to your phone and boots up your OS. With this you have all the power to go about your work. You could then walk into the conference room and show everyone your ideas on the TV, that would also link up, but the interface changes to cater for the limited hardware. Then you go home and decide to play the latest 3D game – the same device would connect and allow you to play the game on the higher specification hardware. All your needs are catered for using drone pc’s and tablets but a single phone to store your OS, applications and media.

The Ubuntu Edge is the first step in that vision, where it goes after that is just limited to our imagination. As it’s a crowd-funded project – we have the say in what goes into it far more than trying to convince Apple to add a feature.

So far the project has raised over $8M, smashing all crowd-funding records so far, but theres still a long way to go, show your support here .

So, to sum up the Ubuntu Edge, if you fund this project (like I have) and if it’s successfully funded you will receive a top of the range device, running the latest OS to hit the market, along with the ability to turn it into a full desktop experience early next year. If you don’t like the latest OS it will also allow you to boot into stock android OS, and still have the ability to turn it into a full desktop experience.

Either way this will push the expectations of users, to provide better devices and hopefully vendor’s will see the benefits of Ubuntu Touch, so it will become available anyway. You can view Ubuntu Mobile site for more information.

Lee Pritchard,Technical Project Manager, DMI


Image courtesy: Phone review

Tags: development OS

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