Ubuntu Linux may soon design an OS for smartphones and tablets to compete with iOS and Android offerings, a definite uphill battle, but one Ubuntu stands a chance of surviving.
The open-source Linux community is forging ahead into the mobile market, according to Canonical leader Mark Shuttleworth, who spoke at the Ubuntu Developer Summit.
Canonical, parent company to the Ubuntu version of Linux, may try its hand at developing for smartphones, tablets, TVs and even onboard navigation systems by 2014, Shuttleworth announced. This timeframe coincides with the planned release of Ubuntu 14.04.
Shuttleworth cited an “underlying hunger” as a reason for Ubuntu’s push, saying consumers are still divided over emerging mobile technologies.
“There is no winner in place yet. This opportunity remains wide open, but only to products that deliver excellent experiences for users, across a full range of device categories,” said Shuttleworth.
Past Linux-based offerings have fallen by the wayside, including several Nokia and Motorola phones, so Ubuntu will need to avoid the same mistakes this time around.
Still, Shuttleworth’s comments suggest he is optimistic about Ubuntu’s chances in the market, despite competition from firmly entrenched rivals, like Apple and Android, which he hinted may not be all-powerful.
On the face of it, however, Ubuntu stands little chance against these two competitors’ combined three-quarters in market share. Samsung and Apple each shipped around 30 million smartphones during the last quarter, not counting the newly released and highly popular iPhone 4S and coming Google Nexus Prime.
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, Nokia, Motorola and other manufacturers make up the other quarter of market share, which may expand in Motorola’s case, now that Google is acquiring it for $12.5 billion.
Given these odds, Ubuntu’s chances of eking out a place for itself in the market look bleak. But there are several chinks in Apple and Google’s armor that may make Linux-based devices attractive by comparison.
For instance, Google Market’s troubles with Android malware and viruses prompt a 40 percent return rate, according to TechCrunch, which also cites the phones’ non-intuitive interface as a reason for customer dissatisfaction.
Apple, too, has had to fix iPhone and iPad glitches like connectivity, screen and supply problems, as well as taking flack along with Google for its location-tracking policies. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company has also fielded criticism for its manufacturing processes, which activists say are environmentally unfriendly and allegedly violate human rights.
In light of this, Ubuntu may have a chance to break into a tough market by turning its competitors’ weak points to its advantage. The Linux-based interface does have a strong following and already boasts Ubuntu 11.10, “a single core interface framework, that scales across all screens, and supports all toolkits.”
Ubuntu has a head start on a mobile platform, one that can adapt to any screen size and works equally well with a mouse, touch screen or stylus, making it easy to port into a wide variety of mobile devices.
It may wage a long, uphill battle but if it conducts itself well, Ubuntu’s mobile platform may emerge as a smartphone contender.