Home > Uncategorized > Canonical should sell hardware to ship Ubuntu for Android

Canonical should sell hardware to ship Ubuntu for Android

Ubuntu for Android (UfA) is a special form of the popular Ubuntu operating system which runs on top of Android so the user can run Anrdoid apps and desktop Linux applications at the same time. It blends desktop Linux with Android in the perfect manner so both touch-oriented and mouse-and-keyboard applications can be used perfectly and in their natural environment.

I strongly believe Ubuntu for Android is a game changer and that Ubuntu and Android badly need each other. See my earlier blog entry about this.

The problem

UfA is still nowhere to be seen, even though it was introduced in February, 2012. Canonical (the developer of Ubuntu) wants to distribute UfA exclusively through phone-OEM partnerships. This is understandable but doesn’t seem to be working out since we haven’t heard of any product announcements by now. Considering the usual product development timeframes, this means that we will not see any UfA capable product this year. In general, the rate of product announcements may mean that OEMs don’t buy into the idea of “Android extended by desktop Linux”.

The situation is aggravated by the possible onslaught of WindowsRT devices. If Surface and other WindowsRT devices manage to firmly establish themselves on the market, it will be a much harder fight for Android. Currently, Android is on the top in mobile, so Microsoft needs to fight the uphill battle with WindowsRT. A well timed, well marketed, spectacular innovation like Ubuntu for Android could give Android the fuel to fight WindowsRT. Seeing the recent announcements of WindowsRT devices, it very much looks like that brand-name OEMs have committed themselves to ship both Windows8 and RT devices in number, which hardly means any good for Android or Ubuntu.

Improving on the situation

The biggest problem is that UfA is practically invisible for the average Android user. UfA needs to get into the hands of users in order to generate a widespread need for it (which in turn can make it a requirement for OEMs).

Several Canonical employees have publicly stated that the company will eventually release this integration work as GPL’d open-source projects. Even if they wanted a business advantage by keeping it closed for a while, that advantage is worthless if the business environment becomes much worse due to the delays (OEMs committing to WindowsRT). UfA should be open-sourced immediately in order to form a basis for its distribution.

Partnering with CyanogenMod

CyanogenMod has always been about features. If UfA needs to be distributed by custom-ROMs (until OEMs catch up) the best place for this would be with CyanogenMod. CYM already supports a wide set of phones and tablets and a lot of people venture to use their ROM on a device which doesn’t get proper OEM updates. For example, my HP Touchpad now runs CyanogenMod 10 and I am impressed with the quality of this distribution. Due to the inability of HP, the Touchpad was a very limited device running WebOS (e.g. no hw accelerated video playback unless via a paid app, fairly slow browser…etc). Now, it happily serves the family both as a nimble browsing device and as a video player (YouTube and videos from the home NAS). The power of the Linux community helped to make the TouchPad a worthwhile purchase.

Canonical could easily set up a project which integrates Ubuntu for Android into CyanogenMod for a lot of devices. In order to avoid bloat, the UfA capable device ROMs could ship with an installer application which download and install the necessary extra components and Ubuntu for Android itself. This way, the base Cyanogen ROM could remain small but any user could transform its device into a full Ubuntu desktop when the need arises.

Selling Canonical branded devices with Ubuntu for Android

Since Canonical has practically no OEM partners, it cannot effectively alienate them (as opposed to Microsoft with the Surface) by selling branded hardware. Seeing the headway with OEMs, nobody could blame Canonical if it turned to hardware sales as a means to more effectively distribute Ubuntu to end-users. Canonical doesn’t have to make money on the hardware, the goal is to put out as many running Ubuntu instances as possible which may generate support contracts.

Naturally, I wouldn’t recommend actually building hardware, only customizing already-available, generic products from ODMs.

How about a Android/Ubuntu stick-PC?

Although Canonical seems to be focusing on phones with UfA, the emerging stick-PC category is also very interesting for a set of reasons. First of all, they cost almost nothing, so the volume may be very high (just what Canonical needs). Secondly, these sticks mostly come with only Android support, but fairly common hardware (like Mali400 GPU, Cortex-A9 cores…etc) so customizing their Android distribution with Ubuntu for Android should not be a significant undertaking.  Thirdly, they come with fairly strong memory bandwidth so Ubuntu will work much better than on limited phone hardware. I was fairly surprised how fast an Allwinner-A10 based laptop can run Ubuntu so you can imagine the speed we get with a new, RK3066 based stick. Hardware-wise, all Canonical needs to do is having an RK3066 stick customized with the ODM for the targeted use case (2GB of RAM and 8GB of flash should be the baseline).

With sufficient volume, a $100 Ubuntu stick looks doable. That device would run all of the typical Android apps/games (like Angry Birds, ShadowGun…etc), serve as a media-center with XBMC for Android and turn into a full-blown Ubuntu desktop if the user wants to do some serious work (or just needs the known-and-trusted Linux desktop). Such a stick could be used as a “TV smartener” with an RF keyboard/touchpad (including a decent torrent client like Transmission) or a normal desktop PC when combined with a monitor + keyboard and mouse.

Whatever Canonical chooses to do, it needs to be done quickly, since the current, favourable market conditions (e.g. the relative weak position of Microsoft in the mobile segment) may not remain with us indefinitely.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 2, 2012 at 01:41

    What I see is yet another missed opportunity for Linux and Free Software. Canonical are talking to the wrong people, they should have gone the ODM route from the start.

  2. John
    September 2, 2012 at 11:10

    I’m sorry, this is the worst idea ever…

    A joinventure with CyanogenMod is the best way to tell the world and every potential partner ubuntu is not to be taken seriously as een business. Besides that if anyone would take CyanogenMod up as a serious business partner, it would be ubuntu’s concurrent. Both make operating systems you know?!?

    Hardware business is not even ubuntu core business… starting this would kill all the efforts ubuntu made to build relations with his current business partners.

    p.s. UfA? seriously? Just thought that up didn’t you? What’s short for Ubuntu for Arm?

    • September 2, 2012 at 22:46

      Why on Earth would anyone discount Canonical because they work with CyanogenMod to include their software? A LOT of people use their ROMs on their phones and tablets. I have seen two colleagues using Cyanogen on their business phones. You try to make them look like some amateurs. Let me tell you, it takes very hard work and genius to do what they do. Show some respect for them please.

      Moreover, Canonical doesn’t need to partner with CYM publicly if they think this would reflect on them negatively. They open-source UfA and make a private “incentive”, which magically result in CyanogenMod including UfA on ROMs.

      Business partners? Seriously, what business partners? Name any OEM that ships Ubuntu machines in any meaningful volume. They could build higher volumes themselves easily. Hw is definitely not their core business, that is why I suggested partnering with ODMs. Got that part?

  3. John
    September 2, 2012 at 11:35

    p.s. adendum

    About my previous post scriptum.

    UfA seems to be the brainfart of someone asking a question about this subject on the ubuntuforums.org begin this year.

    • September 2, 2012 at 22:30

      UfA is how Canonical employees refer to Ubuntu for Android.

  4. glococo
    September 2, 2012 at 20:50

    Actually, the Hackberry with the allwinner10 cost 65 USD with 1gbRAM and more.

    Ubuntu need to do it Urgent.
    Now is the time. Sell an Stick with Ubuntu desktop + TV.

    • September 2, 2012 at 22:50

      Yes, but I believe the Allwinner A10 would be too weak to run Ubuntu for Android. It can run a standalone Ubuntu fairly well but not Android and Ubuntu together and I believe this would be the killer combination (see my reasoning in my earier blog posts).

  5. September 3, 2012 at 11:10

    I have a strange question, why isn’t canonical and google partnering up to make this special app?
    this will almost guarantee that U4A will work because any special hardware/software requirements U4A has, every manufacture will have to comply to in order to have android on their devices. Granted not every mobile device company will follow but companies like ausus, samsung, lenovo, toshiba, etc. will at least try to meet the the requirements for most, if not all, of their phones, ego most of their phones will also be compatible with whatever special hardware/software needs U4A has. Furthermore if they partner with google to make their apps custom after market oses, like cyangenmod, will also be compatible with it too.

    • September 3, 2012 at 13:43

      Probably, because Google doesn’t want to have anything to do with desktop Linux. They want to push their own solution (Android) which is under their control. In fact, they never utter the word “Linux” in conjunction with Android unless forced. I believe they are wrong but this looks like to be their stance.

      Google is rumored to be working on some kind of desktop solution in Android 5. This will likely be incompatible with desktop Linux applications and run only Android applications in a keyboard+mouse friendly manner.

  6. John
    September 3, 2012 at 18:54

    soltesza :
    UfA is how Canonical employees refer to Ubuntu for Android.

    Got an URL to support your statement?

    • September 3, 2012 at 19:26

      John, this is getting really ridiculous. Why would I need to prove the origin of an abbreviation used in a blog bost? If you don’t like it, don’t use it. If you don’t like that I use it, don’t read my blog posts (or comments).

      But, if this is so important to you: it was in an email, in which I discussed Ubuntu for Android on the Transformer Prime with a Canonical employee. He used this abbreviation. Happier?

      • John
        September 6, 2012 at 19:02

        Happy as always thank you… About why you should prove this? I didn’t asked you. you replied on my statement with: “UfA is how Canonical employees refer to Ubuntu for Android.”. As far as the internet knows there is NO official statement from Ubuntu supporting this.

        Just to be explicit: You don’t need to prove me wrong, you don’t have to prove you are right. I just support my statements with facts, which happens to be the opposite of your statements 😉

        Like your blog… informative and well written.

  7. cooldoods
    September 11, 2012 at 11:10

    Canonical said after MWC that virtually all Android phone manufacturers are inquiring about Ubuntu for Android and that they expect actual products to come out in Q4. I’m passing on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and waiting for the next one in hopes that it will have support for UfA.

  8. December 13, 2012 at 14:03

    great post….thank you the helpful post…..

  1. October 1, 2012 at 13:16

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