Canonical: no major Ubuntu smartphone launch until 2015

Canonical employee reveals an Ubuntu handset is still some time from being released

Nicole Kobie
15 Jan 2014

Canonical has cooled expectations for a major Ubuntu Touch phone launch this year, saying a large OEM probably won't release a handset running the open-source OS this year.

At the end of 2013, Ubuntu developer Canonical said it had signed up one unnamed manufacturer, which would likely ship a handset running the OS during 2014.

Now, Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon has said in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session that while it may be possible to get an Ubuntu phone this year, it's unlikely to come via a major OEM or carrier.

"This is a long road though with many components, and I would be surprised if we see anything like this before 2015," he said.

An Ubuntu smartphone could arrive sooner, but it will likely be a smaller, more limited launch, he said.

"In the shorter term there are smaller OEMs who serve a smaller region who see great opportunity in Ubuntu, and their costs and risk are smaller for them to trial a device," he added. "This is where we will likely see the first handsets shipping. My hope is that when one of these smaller OEMs ships an Ubuntu handset that it sells well and it sends a strong message to other OEMs too."

The first handsets will likely focus on the enterprise market, Bacon added. "A phone that runs Ubuntu for phones and can also run a business desktop is valuable in an enterprise setting."

Edge crowdfunding

Canonical last summer tried to crowdfund its own Ubuntu smartphone, but fell well short of the $32 million necessary to make the device - which Bacon admitted was an "astonishingly ambitious goal".

While Bacon said he'd personally love to own that handset, Canonical has no plans to produce the Ubuntu Edge. "I am supportive of this: I think it would tie Canonical up in knots delivering a very specific device rather than focusing our efforts on making Ubuntu work well for other OEMs who can ship it," he said.

However, he noted that the Edge crowdfunding campaign was "really helpful" for Canonical's smartphone goals. "It directly triggered a set of discussions from various OEMs and carriers who were blown away by the support in the community and press for the device."

TV trials

Bacon was also asked if Ubuntu TV was dead; the project first launched two years ago, but has yet to be picked up by any manufacturers.

"It is still alive, but right now our focus is prioritised on phone and tablet (our desktop is also maintained)," he said. "When the phone and tablet work is done we will converge the desktop and then get to TV."

However, there's no schedule for when an Ubuntu TV might arrive. "I would guess late 2015 at the earliest," he said.

"The TV market is complex," he explained. "It is driven by large hardware companies who are still figuring out the software side of things... Now, this opens an interesting market for people like Ubuntu, Firefox, Roku etc, to get in there and take care of that side of the equation, but it is a long, long road in organisations that typically want to build things in-house."

"Firefox is making efforts in that area, and we have Ubuntu TV, but I don't think the game is won by anyone; far from it," he said.

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