At 18:00 GMT on the 2nd January 2013, Ubuntu are announcing something very interesting which could have a huge impact on the world of mobile computing. Allow me to explain with a personal flashback...
Four and a half years ago after losing my beloved PDA to a concrete catastrophe, I remember scouring the market for the best handsets available as a replacement. There was one device from HTC that stuck out, the Touch Diamond Pro. Marveling at it’s rich Touch FLO interface that has evolved into today's HTC Sense, it’s beefy hardware and beautiful screen (remember this was back when the phone of choice for many was a Nokia with Snakes) there was one feature hidden away that few were talking about but made my insides quiver with excitement, TV out. The possibility to have a mobile phone that was potentially powerful enough to render a full desktop web page to an external display seemed the start of a truly mobile age freeing us from large laptop bags and huge desktop boxes.
Fast forward to today and that ideological revolution has gathered pace and taken huge leaps into reality. The latest HTC, Nokia, Apple and Samsung handsets all have processors running at speeds that sound remarkably similar to those found on laptops and netbooks. True 1080p HD displays that rival specifications of many living room televisions. And ecosystems that have become so established that you’ll probably find a mobile option for any desktop task you can think of. All the latest devices have some form of screen mirroring / video out capability, either dedicated HDMI or micro USB ports, or wireless mechanisms that incorporate DLNA and the WiFi Direct standards such as Miracast or AirPlay. Adding to that, external mouse and keyboard support has been directly built into the core of all the major operating systems over the last few incremental releases, and you have the foundations of a an incredibly versatile system.
So, are we at the point of true portability and mobile computing? In a word, no. The “simplified” touch interfaces developed over the years for our thumbs and fingers scaled up on a 42” living room TV or 22” desktop monitor are fine for basic browsing and showing your mates a clip from YouTube. But when we think of productivity, we still think of the established desktop standards, multiple windows, a bountiful user interface, the ability to run powerful applications, and multitasking. The hardware is capable, but the software just hasn’t caught up.
The recent releases by Microsoft, including Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT, are possibly the beginnings of the very mobile utopia I’ve been waiting for. The fact that they all run the same core hints at that very convergence, but the layers above that core are still limited by their separation - you cannot run full Windows on an ARM processor - Apple is starting to piece together all the elements for mobile computing, but is apparently still behind Microsoft in the development of such a system.
Step forward Linux, and more specifically Ubuntu for Android. The idea here being that the two user environments can coexist on the same device with a level of integration that is so discreet, the user wouldn’t even notice it. It’s effectively what many had hoped for in the early days of the Windows 8 rumours before we discovered that Windows RT won't support legacy applications. Because of the similarities and shared resources between Android and Ubuntu, you will be able to take your mobile handset, plug it in to any external display, and the switch to a full Ubuntu desktop mode starts, simple. But will it be? Take a look at the videos below to find out more...
There have been various attempts at this kind of amalgamation before, Archos allowing their devices to dual-boot Android and Linux straight out of the box, and various ways of running Ubuntu inside of Android on a number of devices, but nothing so seamless that provided the functionality of Ubuntu for Android. The information you already have and use on your phone will be silently carried over and ready to use in the Ubuntu environment, and this integration is key to the success of the project. Whilst the majority of people are familiar with either Windows or iOS, there are less that would feel comfortable hopping onto Linux machine in the same way. If our emails and personal information are already there, it makes the transition and learning curve for new users much, much easier to tackle.
Android for Ubuntu was originally scheduled for release in 2014, but the recent teasers on the Ubuntu home page hint at the beginnings of its’ future. In terms of truly mobile computing, Ubuntu for Android could well take the lead ahead of Microsoft and Apple. I for one am excited at the possibilities, roll on 18:00 GMT! Oh, and did someone say Google and Motorola are working on an “X” phone for 2013, hmm? In the meantime let us know what you all think about it below in the comments.