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Canonical has promised to release a fully operational version of its Ubuntu Touch for Phones software by the end of the month, after missing its initial launch deadline.

Originally promised by Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth to be released “in the coming weeks” following its January unveiling, a planned February launch date came and went without the software being made available to the public in a working form. Issues with getting basic phone functionality, such as voice calls and text messaging, fully operational on the chosen handsets meant that the software which was released was all-but unusable for anyone on their main phone – and have allowed Mozilla, with its rival , to gain an early lead having released the first handsets to developers already.

Now, Canonical developer Rick Spencer has promised that a fully-working build of Ubuntu Touch for Phones will be released by the end of this month. “We should drive as hard as we can to making it so that we can use our phones with Ubuntu Touch as our real daily phones as soon as possible”, the engineer explains. “So, we committed our teams to making it so that by end of May, the phone images will be usable as our daily phones.”


That means, Spencer explains, that by the end of the month software images will be released which offer the ability to make and receive phone calls and SMS messages, browse the web on both 3G mobile broadband and Wi-Fi connections, switch between the two connectivity types on-the-fly, have the in-built proximity sensor dim the screen during a call, import contacts from third-party repositories and edit contacts directly on the phone, and retain user data between software updates.

This doesn’t, however, mean that the software will be feature-complete by the end of the month. “Off the bat, I can think of things like the ability to find and install new apps, hardware not working on certain reference hardware – camera on Nexus 7 for example – lots of missing features in existing apps, etc.” admits Spencer.

Designed to offer an alternative to Google’s Android OS, Ubuntu for Phones is designed to allow devices to transform from a smartphone or tablet into a fully-functional desktop computer, using the familiar Ubuntu Unity interface tweaked for small screen devices. Thus far, the company has not launched any hardware of its own, concentrating instead on producing software images for Google’s Nexus range of handsets.

As with the most recent versions of Ubuntu desktop, Ubuntu for phones uses the Unity interface, designed to give over more space to applications and removing a lot of the clutter that usually dominates an OS.

With a smartphone this is arguably even more important, as the screen space is even more limited. With this in mind, the interface has been redeveloped, leaving as much of the screen free for content and applications as possible. Ubuntu for Phones is also designed to make accessing your information incredibly fast using just one hand.


First, is the lock screen, although as Shuttleworth is keen to point out, “It’s not a lock screen, it’s a welcome screen.”

It’s designed to show you information, including missed calls, new Tweets and the number of new messages. However, it also serves as a launcher for your favourite apps.

Ubuntu for Phones welcome screen

Just swipe in from the left-hand-side of the screen to bring up the Launcher, which will be familiar to anyone that’s used the Desktop version of the OS before. Tap any icon on the Launcher and your app starts immediately. This is one step ahead of most smartphones that only provide access to the camera via the lock screen.

As security could be a concern, Ubuntu for phones can be locked and set so that any of your quick-launch applications that access private data, such as Facebook, will require an unlock code before they launch.

Outside of the welcome screen, there’s the full OS with its home screens. These are all built around different aspects of the phone, and are designed to show your most popular data. For example, on the Apps screen, you can see what’s running, what your most common apps are and apps you can install; the Contacts screen shows you the people that you most commonly talk to; and the messages screen shows you new messages no matter which service they come through, such as Facebook, email or SMS.


As with most modern handsets, status icons appear at the top of the screen to show you things such as the current wireless network you’re connected to and notify you about new messages. Unlike in other operating systems, you can swipe in from the top of the screen, hover over an icon and change settings without having to leave the app.

Ubuntu Phone

For example, if you move to the battery status icon and select it, you can change battery-related settings, such as the screen’s brightness. It’s a neat and clever way to change settings immediately without having to delve through page after page of settings.


Furthering the need to save on screen space, apps don’t have any buttons or options visible on screen. Instead, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to display any available options, such as the ability to share a photo in the Gallery app.

It certainly saves on space and having a consistent way to display program options is key to maintain usability.


Every smartphone needs apps and Ubuntu supports both web (HTML5) and native apps. Web apps were introduced in Ubuntu 12.10 and let websites integrate into your phone. For example, Facebook can have its own icon and display updates and new messages as though it were a native app.

There will also be full support for native apps, which will be more feature-rich and should run more smoothly. Technically speaking, any existing Ubuntu app should run, although it will need to have the new front-end in order to appear as an option for installation on the phone.

While this means that Ubuntu for phones will launch with a wide range of apps, it currently doesn’t have the breadth of commercial apps or the support of big companies, such as Sky, that both Apple and Android enjoy. Getting these companies on board is going to be key to help convert people to Ubuntu, but it’s going to be tough, as Microsoft has found with Windows Phone.


As with the desktop version of Ubuntu, search is a key part of Ubuntu for phones. Although not implemented in the test version we saw, the search will allow you to find content on your phone and online.

Ubuntu Phone

Ubuntu will decide what kind of content you’re searching for and display the relevant results based on context. This does include shopping results, which were widely criticised in the latest version of Ubuntu, which surfaced Amazon results.

We’ve been told that there will be an option to disable which resources the search algorithm looks at, as direct feedback from the integrated shopping options inUbuntu 12.10.


As well as running a standard phone OS, Ubuntu for Phones will also include a Desktop mode. When the phone is docked and you have a keyboard and mouse present it would let the handset become a desktop computer with full-blown Linux on it.

In the long term it’s hoped that you could take your smartphone and dock it with a tablet for one experience and with a monitor, keyboard and mouse for another. It’s all quite clever, but it’s going to need decent hardware peripheral support for it to work.


Ubuntu for phones runs the Android kernel, which means that it will be compatible with most existing Android handsets. That’s important, as it means handset manufacturers can easily convert existing models to run Ubuntu rather than Android. It also means that braver users can root their phones and install Ubuntu for phones instead of the OS that their phone originally shipped with.

Ubuntu for phones will support all Arm processors, including dual-core and quad-core models. It will also support screen resolutions up to 1080p, making it suitable for low-end and high-end devices alike.

All of the demonstrations we saw were run on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is now a generation old. In general, the Ubuntu phone OS was very slick with smooth scrolling and transitions. Only the occasional jerkiness slipped in, mostly when starting a new application, although as this was a pre-release OS that’s to be expected.


There’s no denying that Ubuntu for phones looks impressive. From the early first look, it was found to be smooth, clever and intuitive to use. Using the Linux code base for complete application compatibility and convergence is a great idea, too. However, until there’s a handset manufacturer, Ubuntu for phones isn’t really a product for anyone outside die-hard enthusiasts. It’ll be hard for Canonical to get partners on board and tempt people away from Android, Apple and, to a lesser degree, Windows Phone, but having another competitor that does something different is always good to see.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?????????????????????????????????




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