Ubuntu OS for smartphones may come next year

Canonical officials didn't provide a specific release date for the smartphone OS

The Ubuntu operating system for smartphones is getting closer to release, with Canonical officials hinting the release will possibly come as early as later this year or sometime next year.

Canonical will make announcements on the Ubuntu OS for smartphones later this year, said John Barnard, global marketing manager at Canonical, at the Computex trade show in Taipei. He said development was continuing on the smartphone OS, and couldn't say if the announcements were tied to the release of the smartphone OS.

But when asked whether the release would be later this year or next year, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said "possibly," though he could not provide a specific date. Barnard echoed Shuttleworth's comments, saying the OS was possible for next year, though a specific date couldn't be nailed down.

Barnard said any smartphone OS would not be directly released for download, but be available for device makers to load on smartphones. He did not provide further insight into the OS, saying people would have to wait until later this year when the announcements are made.

After years of teasers, Canonical finally announced the intent to develop the Ubuntu operating system for mobile phones and tablets last year. An earlier version of Ubuntu was available for smartphones, but the version was scuttled in favor of the desktop and server OS versions.

But at the Computex trade show, Canonical hinted at the readiness of Ubuntu for smartphones by merging a version of the OS with Android. The company demonstrated a smartphone that doubled up as a PC running Android and Ubuntu side by side. The smartphone booted with Android, but could load Ubuntu when the smartphone was placed on a dock that was connected to a monitor.

The version of Ubuntu is using the same kernel to run Android, Barnard said. When connected to a dock, the version of Ubuntu that fires up from the smartphone provides a full experience also found on the desktop version of the OS, which also includes access to Ubuntu Software Center to download applications. The Ubuntu OS loaded from the smartphone also has the Unity user interface, which is found in desktop versions of the OS.

There is commonality between the Android and Ubuntu versions as users can access contacts and can continue to receive SMSes and notifications when the smartphone is in Ubuntu mode.

The dual-OS will take advantage of multicore ARM CPUs and graphics processors that are being included in smartphones today, Canonical officials said. Barnard hopes the Ubuntu-Android OS combination will be found on smartphones later this year. There is a lot of interest from device makers to load the dual-OS on smartphones, Barnard said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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