Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Ubuntu for Phones

Announced yesterday, Ubuntu for smartphones is scheduled to be shipping at some point next year. I didn’t post about it because I don’t think it’s that interesting, new, or destined for success. But some comments reported by Ars Technica‘s Jon Brodkin piqued my interest:

In short, [Canonical founder Mark] Shuttleworth believes that Ubuntu will be more user-friendly for people who barely know how to use a smartphone, and he says it will offer a more powerful alternative to Android at the high end for several reasons, including Ubuntu’s ability to operate across mobile devices and desktops (click hereĀ for more on the design of Ubuntu for phones.)

This is delusional. Take a look at Engadget‘s hands-on video (linked above), or Vlad Savov’s from The Verge. Both show a UI that is nearly hidden unless you swipe from edges to navigate. The side app switcher and the settings pulldown are particularly weak: both require the user to be incredibly precise with their finger to avoid unintentional touches. It isn’t more user-friendly at all, especially not for those who don’t have any experience with a smartphone.

Like Microsoft, Canonical has chosen to distribute one operating system across their mobile, tablet, and desktop environments. While this does give all devices the same power and hackability (as alluded to by Shuttleworth), it means that they’re all running an OS that isn’t quite optimized for any given platform. iOS is essentially a stripped-down version of OS X underneath, and Android is a stripped-down *nix distro. But they’ve both been designed for smaller touch screens. A full version of Ubuntu on a cellphone doesn’t make sense for most people.

This appears to be a confused disaster.