Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ubuntu mobile, what could it mean for Canonical

Ubuntu mobile offers something interesting to the operating systems that already exists in the market.  In this article, I want to highlight a few reasons why Ubuntu mobile should be taken seriously.  They have some unique ideas that I think could provide a compelling alternative to the current mobile powerhouses.

For most of the current OSs, apps have to be written natively to support the OS APIs.  Web apps can be written but they typically do not perform nearly as well as a native app.  They are also not eligible to be distributed on Google Play or the iOS Appstore.  Even though apps do perform better when written in native code, this is a large investment for the developer to have to develop each app for each OS.  This is not a problem for the large companies but provide a significant barrier to entry for smaller developers.  This is especially true for Android development where varying hardware configurations can make it tedious for developing an app.  Ubuntu mobile and even Firefox OS are hoping to change this way of thinking.  Ubuntu and Firefox OS are going to provide APIs that developers can use when developing mobile web apps.  This will allow developers to access the hardware unlike on Android and iOS where apps have to be developed natively to take advantage of hardware APIs.  Ubuntu mobile, unlike Firefox OS, is also allowing developers to develop apps natively as well.

The reason developers can take advantage of both on Ubuntu is because of the APIs for web apps as well as the fact that Ubuntu mobile is running the full OS.  Their strategy is to have compatibility across all devices.  This is similar to what Microsoft was trying to do but wasn't able to take advantage of.  This could possibly put Ubuntu in a really good position if you could use your phone or tablet as your computer by plugging in an HDMI cable into a monitor and have a full fledged OS on your phone or tablet.  Since it is full Ubuntu, the possibilities are much better than what exist on Android and iOS for a fully integrated device.  I do not think that iOS would ever go down this route but I do believe that Android has the ability to also perform this function although Ubuntu seems to be the one company doing it.  The real question is, will anyone care?

Your average consumer is a fickle person.  They seem to go with whatever is popular and do not normally show allegiance to a particular product.  They are willing to switch to whatever fits their needs.  Look at the Wii for example.  Everyone had to have a Wii when it came out and now that the Wii U is out, they are having enormous trouble selling the device.  The casual consumer is not a fanboy like you and me, The don't have allegiance to platforms, they only care about what is cool and what can meet their needs.  If Ubuntu mobile can fit that mold, they may be in very good shape to gain market share away from the big two.

Ubuntu releasing this fresh, new operating system gives them a good amount of buzz around the tech community and this buzz eventually trickles down to the average consumer.  Whether they are interested or not is a different thing all together.  What is important is that it is creating buzz.  Ubuntu has been around for a while and hasn't been very relavent at all in the desktop OS space.  If they can start getting people to buy into their mobile platform, maybe this means that the mobile version will also sell desktop Ubuntu similarly to iPads, iPods, and iPhones selling Macs.

After looking at the tablet demo video from Mobile World Congress presented by Mark Shuttleworth, I think Ubuntu may actually have something interesting on their hands.  Its a fresh and pretty looking OS that comes with some great ideas.  Hopefully they can attract developers with their APIs for web app developers so they will have plenty of apps at launch.  Also, hopefully they can convince the consumer as to why they should care about Ubuntu.  One thing is for sure, they have some great ideas that I would like Google and Apple to take note of.  I also think they have a much better chance of winning consumers than Windows Phone because they are doing something unique.  If they can take advantage of the integration and get support for developers, they could be a force to be reckoned with.

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