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There’s something Ubuntu needs to do if the phone is going to work..

Top-10-Mobile-Phones-under-Rs.-5000

They say a week in politics is a long time, well a year in the mobile phone industry is an eternity and what huge changes the industry is going through. A year ago the roost was ruled by Apple and Google, 3G was the fastest we can go and handsets were finding a stock size at 4.5″.. The world however of the mobile device is now a very different place and very much in a positive state of change..

New Kids Arrive as Old favourites make a last stand

Apple took this market segment, understood where vendors like Palm had missed the boat and provided the world with what it needed, they didn’t invent the smartphone, they invented the smartphone everyone wanted. Google on the other hand took what Apple had created, and built on it, while the systems are intrinsically different in their delivery systems, thinking and underpinnings, their delivery systems have many similar aspects.And that is to the detriment of the whole exo system. Both systems have their differences sure, however pick up an iPhone or n Android as a normal user and other than the labels on the phones the rows of icons, the app stores, many of the same apps in the stores there is little to choose between both phones at a base level. Sure you can argue about ecosystems, iTunes, Google music, app store, Google play at the end of the day they do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The 3rd option has always been the Blackberry, the darling of the business world, with its easy of use Enterprise Server (BES) and undeniable thirst for security. The platform took hold because of its (at the time) revolutionary ease of use email, the road warrior must have was the Blackberry. Push mail, quick simple, the full QWERTY keyboard it was all going so well for Blackberry, even the kids seemed to love it, picking up on the free Chat app. However when downturns happen, they hit hard in the tech world, and the demise of Blackberry has been documented by many, predicted by more.  However with a swift company rename from RIM to Blackberry and the release of two new phones, there are hopes for Blackberry in this touch market segment.

Then there was Microsoft who having made a huge mistake it seemed in launching Windows Phone 7 and then telling its customers, oops we are sorry when we release Windows Phone 8, you can’t upgrade.. Released Windows Phone 8 (WP8) and took Nokia, a company who’s market share due to poor judgement and a few other reasons had tanked, under its wing to produce the Nokia 820 and 920. With release date of the phone coinciding in the UK with the launch of EE’s 4G the phone and OS have gone forward to make some big inroads and big sales world wide, bigger than maybe expected. This, even at a time when the desktop OS is floundering a little..

So with 4 players, all with household names and varying degrees of support and detractors in all camps you’d have thought this was a market segment which only the insane would enter. Step forward Canonical with big plans for it’s OpenSource OS Ubuntu.

Ubuntu’s masterplan

Announcing itself at CES 2013, Canonical have a vision, one which if can get wings, could flay. the first step of this masterplan was the introduction of Ubuntu Phone. A version of Ubuntu, which uses a phone optimised version of the Unity desktop on an Ubuntu OS. By the time Mobile World Congress had arrived a developer preview of the OS was available for all and Any on the Ubuntu site with instructions how to get the OS onto Google Nexus phone’s or Tablets, and equally important how to get android back on the device once you’ve figured out that developer preview means not everything is working, its to preview to developers. A couple of weeks later and what wa just a handful of Nexus devices supported for this version of the software became many more as the community got to ripping apart their phones and documenting how to get Ubuntu Phone OS onto Acer Transformer prime’s, Samsung Galaxy SIII’s and many other devices.

While this latter part may not have been part of Ubuntu’s masterplan what it does do is show the power of community and when you get people informed and give them the tools great things can happen.

The Plan however, lets call it the vision, is to have one underlying Ubuntu OS in 2014 on the 1404 release which will sit on a Desktop, Laptop, Mobile Phone, Tablet or TV and the display will be provided which best suites this device. As a developer you can write code for a single platform, and following the App design guidelines it will work on any one of those aforementioned devices with no major tweaking of code.

While you may ask doesn’t Microsoft already do this with Windows 8? Having asked around a few developers at work, it seems not, there are still major differences (which i don’t understand so well as after the 3rd bit about compiling i got bored) which mean you need different apps for each platform

How Blackberry owned the corporate

With Ubuntu’s masterplan in mind, i would like at this point to take a slight side step and think about just how it was RIM took Blackberry to where it was in the time it did. I think its safe to say it wasn’t on looks of the OS. Blackberry OS is plain boring.

Blackberry got its first foot hold in the market because at the time it was able to push mail from your mail server in the office to your phone the second it arrived. At the time most other devices were checking for new mail every 10 minutes. Instant delivery of mail was huge at the time and very popular.

However while push email was great for the technically disenfranchised the route to owning the corporate desktop was more than this, consider email as the bait, the rod and line were Blackberry Enterprise server, for the first time phones could be managed company wide from a central location by the systems administrator  with the minimal amount of fuss, and overtime this became so secure accreditation stamps were being handed to the product like candy to a baby.

Even when the iPhone first took off and with its shiney touch screens and all the other goodness, Blackberry phones still ruled the business world, why? Simple easy management of lots of phones. This was and honestly still isn’t even with the likes of the well known MDM’s possible to the BES level on any other platform. It’s also not helped by companies such as Apple when they put out updates which cause more problems with Email, Calendar and Contacts then they fix.

How Ubuntu can gain its foothold

Canonical are entering a packed and busy market field here with Apple, Google and Microsoft all pushing HUGE marketing budgets and having a large amount of sway in the handset markets with manufacturers. Canonical might get lucky and find a company as Microsoft did with Nokia who will put faith in them, build the handset and sell well. HTC as an example a company looking for an edge. However its a big risk if you are just another phone OS pushing an OS known by a lot of geeks and not with the living room name like Apple, Google or Microsoft.

IF Canonical want to stay in this market, they need to own the enterprise, and do it in a big way, they have a huge strength in the convergence of the Operating Systems, one App fits all if you like, and in times of austerity and thin client models, working in the cloud and cross platform independence being bumped around marketing campaign’s software that can save you money, be functional, easy to manage and enterprise friendly while being secure is of huge importance to a company of any size.

Ubuntu, because of its Linux roots is believed to be inherently more secure than Windows on the desktop, and it’s not so much of a leap of faith to push the same message on the phone, especially with the security issues which have given Android so much bad press over the years.

What Ubuntu really needs moving forward is an enterprise ready back end, something which can aid systems administrators in the same way BES did on the Blackberry platform, Giving the systems administrator the ability to centrally manage the platform whatever device it is on, to Encrypt, Manage Ports, Setup Policies, Profiles, Manage Software updates centrally while receiving statistics, information and data about the phones for management purposes is a must. Even if the enterprise only starts off using this for the mobile platform, it’s important that from day one Ubuntu 14.04 has this ability across the board. With the same OS being used on multiple platforms it’s no huge amount of work to ensure this is done.

This back end infrastructure allows Enterprise and Mobile operators to be able to provide varying levels of service to groups of people, quickly and in an affordable manner. And with a low cost OS on th platform cost savings while using an already established operating system could provide Canonical with a major inroad doing something not yet possible on any other platform.

What can Ubuntu learn from the other Mobile Platforms?

Canonical need to also look at the issues other Mobile platforms have had and learn quickly from them, they should avoid the mess the android platform has got itself into when it comes to updates and take a leaf out of Apples book, with over 90% of users adopting new updates  within a week of release. However unlike Apple i’d suggest that the community shouldn’t be ignored, the community behind Ubuntu can make it or break it depending on how Canonical treat them. If root’s and Jailbreaks are available, and alternative app stores are showing the sort of innovation which has people using apps on their devices, learn from this and bring that innovation into the fold. Don’t provide updates to kill this.

I’ve already suggested Canonical should fork Ubuntu to remove it from the bickering of the rest of the Linux community, if it wants to be successful it may have to do this. Especially when founders like Linus throw explicitly filled rants on the internet.

Apps are not an issue, Ubuntu already has a wealth of Apps using a well thought out and maintained repository, the apt system is proven to be stable and easy o use and the big social sites, browsers, mail clients and IM tools are all covered as are most of the major cloud services. Those that are not yet (EVERNOTE!!!!) soon will be if this takes off.

Conclusion

Canonical are taking a risk here, it may be a calculated one however well thought out and well presented Mobile operating systems have come and gone over the years. WebOS is a good example of a mobile OS with great potential mishandled from day one. I’m sure  behind the scenes Canonical are working feverishly selling the idea of this platform, and its possibilities for the enterprise to handset manufacturers  ideas like Ubuntu for Android as well are great examples of the innovation coming out of this wing of the Linux community. The sheer number of alternative phones being made Ubuntu phone ready by that same community shows there is at least within the ranks of the Linux Savvy a want and a desire for this to work, however Canonical need to reach a far bigger audience if they are to succeed with this. The timing however is right, as WP8 has shown, the market is ready for an alternative to the phone your parents have.. be that iPhone or Android.. with Blackberry being not quite so cool as before.. this might just happen… and happen well.

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2 comments on “There’s something Ubuntu needs to do if the phone is going to work..

  1. Mike
    April 9, 2013

    Very nice article. I do suggest you let someone check your spelling when you write articles in the future.

    • projectzme
      April 9, 2013

      Cheers, check the tag line for the blog out 😉

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