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Canonical names carrier group for Ubuntu Touch devices

Jun 19, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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Canonical has announced a “Carrier Advisory Group” (CAG) of eight mobile carriers, which will influence the development of Ubuntu for Phones. The initial CAG membership consists of Deutsche Telekom, Everything Everywhere, Korea Telecom, Telecom Italia, LG UPlus, Portugal Telecom, SK Telecom, and an unnamed “leading Spanish international carrier.”

When Canonical announced its Ubuntu Touch mobile platform earlier this year, including Ubuntu Phone and Ubuntu Tablet versions, it received rave reviews for the polished interface, but questions about the absence of vendor and carrier support. Now, with the announcement of the Carrier Advisory Group, Canonical is halfway there.



Ubuntu for phones and tablets
(click images to enlarge)

Conspicuously absent from the CAG’s founding roster are U.S. carriers, in contrast to fellow mobile Linux contenders Tizen.org and Mozilla’s Firefox OS, which each have signed up Sprint.

The CAG list includes three Korean carriers — Korea Telecom, LG UPlus, and SK Telecom — which is interesting considering the domination in Korea by the Android- and Tizen-oriented Samsung. The others are all based in Europe, including Everything Everywhere, a UK-focused joint venture between France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom. The announcement also lists “the leading Spanish international carrier,” which is presumably Telefonica, an early supporter of Firefox OS, and also a member of the Tizen board.

There are no promises that all eight carriers will actually offer Ubuntu phones. Instead, the CAG is intended to act as a “forum for mobile operators to influence the development of Ubuntu for smartphones.” The members will gain access to “early information about Ubuntu and device manufacturer plans to support the OS,” and have an “opportunity to be a launch partner for Ubuntu on smartphones,” adds Canonical.

CAG members can launch Ubuntu devices before non-members in local markets, says Canonical. Two initial launch partners will offer the first Ubuntu phones, to be followed six months later by “the next wave.” Canonical previously announced that the first devices would reach market shortly after the April 2014 release of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, which will fully integrate Ubuntu Touch support. Tablets were expected to follow later in the year (see farther below for more background).

The CAG plans to hold regular meetings to discuss topics including:

  • Differentiation for OEMs and operators
  • Developer ecosystems and application portability from Android and Blackberry
  • HTML5 standards, performance, and compatibility
  • Marketplaces for apps, content, and services
  • Revenue share models for publishers, operators, and OEMs
  • Payment mechanisms and standards
  • Platform fragmentation
  • Consumer and enterprise market segments and positioning

“Ubuntu brings a time-tested operating system and an attractive user experience, as well as a community of developers ready to apply enterprise-grade skills in the creation of applications,” says CAG chair David Wood, currently Chair at London Futurists. “Carrier Advisory Group will have ample opportunity to influence the Ubuntu roadmap, and take full advantage of the potential in this emerging platform.”

“While Ubuntu has gained tremendous traction in both cloud and PC environments, we recognise the complex dynamics of the mobile market and so the CAG allows us to draw on the insights and support of such a thoughtful and experienced group of industry partners,” adds Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth.
 

Ubuntu Touch background and roadmap

In April, Canonical released Ubuntu 13.04 (“Raring Ringtail”), which offered a Developer Preview SDK for creating apps that run on the desktop as well as Ubuntu Touch-based smartphones and tablets. The goal for the final SDK is to let developers create a single application for all Ubuntu form-factors, including desktop, and publish it in the Ubuntu Software Centre with a single upload.

This October, Canonical’s Ubuntu project plans to release a stable Ubuntu for Phones stack built in Ubuntu 13.10. The firmware will be able to run on the Android-based Nexus 4 and Nexus Phone. A native Ubuntu-based phone launch will occur with the “convergence” release of Ubuntu 14.04 LTE, due on April 24, 2014.

The Ubuntu Touch-ready “Unity Next” environment will be integrated into the platform-convergent Ubuntu 14.04, combing Ubuntu’s Unity interface, the Qt UI framework, and its QML (Qt Meta-Object-Language) Javascript language. It will also incorporate Canonical’s new homegrown Mir windowing interface.

Ubuntu has yet to definitively brand its mobile platform. In the past, it has referred to a Ubuntu Touch interface that serves similar Ubuntu for Phones and Ubuntu for Tablets profiles, and it has also floated the “Ubuntu Next” moniker. In the CAG announcement, it mentions only “Ubuntu for smartphones” or “Ubuntu mobile platform.”

The naming ambiguity no doubt stems from the fact that all the Ubuntu Touch features will be backed into the mainstream Ubuntu. In addition, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth has suggested that carriers will have extensive branding and customization rights. In this, Ubuntu is following a similar open strategy to that of Linux contenders like Tizen, Firefox OS, and Jolla’s Sailfish OS. When you’re a long-shot in an Android and iOS dominated mobile world where even giants like Microsoft have failed to make much of a dent, you can’t afford to be picky.

The sleek Ubuntu Touch interface eschews buttons for touch controls and edge gestures from all sides of the device. It supports both native and HTML5-based web apps, and offers secure multiple accounts and Canonical’s Heads-Up Display (HUD) voice interface. In addition, Ubuntu for Tablets can run an unmodified Ubuntu for Phones app next to a tablet app using “side stage” multitasking.



Ubuntu for Tablets side stage multitasking
(click image to enlarge)

 

Both the phone and tablet implementations are offered in dual profiles, with the high end versions supporting both Intel Atom and ARM Cortex-A9 system-on-chips. The tablet profile also supports quad-core Cortex-A15 SoCs and screen sizes up to 20 inches.

Now all Canonical needs is a manufacturer or two. Presumably we’ll see someone step to the plate by October’s Ubuntu 13.10 release.

CAG invitations are extended to additional carriers through the end of July. More information may be found at the Ubuntu Carrier Advisory Group page.
 

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