First Ubuntu phones to launch in 2014

Chinese phone makers BQ and Meizu will make the first handsets

The first smartphones based on a mobile version of Canonical's Ubuntu Linux operating system will be launched this year, the company's CEO said Wednesday.

BQ and Meizu, both Chinese phone makers, will produce the phones that will launch "well within" 2014, said Mark Shuttleworth, in a conference call with reporters.

Shuttleworth didn't disclose any other details of the phones, but he hinted that the BQ phone would have dual-SIM slots and the Meizu phone would match Ubuntu with Android on a dual-boot system.

Samples of both phones will be on show at next week's Mobile World Congress exhibition in Barcelona.

Ubuntu is best-known for its desktop and server Linux OS, which has a reputation for being easier to use and install than many other Linux operating systems.

Canonical, the company behind the OS, first announced plans for an Ubuntu mobile OS at the beginning of 2013.

In the middle of the year, the company launched a crowd-funding project for a high-end concept phone based on the operating system. While the campaign for the Ubuntu Edge phone received a strong launch -- over a million dollars were raised in the first few hours -- enthusiasm quickly tailed off and the campaign raised just under $13 million, which was well below the target of $32 million.

As it enters the mobile space, Shuttleworth said Ubuntu is looking to become the number-three platform in the industry.

That would put it ahead of Microsoft's Windows Phone and BlackBerry OS, which are the current third and fourth-ranked platforms behind Android and Apple's iOS.

But to date, consumers appear to be quite happy with the market leaders, which account for 94 percent of the entire market. Microsoft and BlackBerry share 5 percent and other operating systems account for just 1 percent of smartphone shipments, according to data from Gartner.

Shuttleworth said he believes a key to gaining market share will be convergence -- the fusing of desktop and mobile platforms so computing done on one is immediately available through apps on the other. The company is planning to eventually bring together its desktop and mobile operating systems as a common platform.

It will also focus on growing the number of apps available for the Ubuntu phone platform.

Lack of major apps has been a common criticism leveled at both Microsoft and BlackBerry, and Shuttleworth said he wants to have "the top 50 apps from Android and iOS when we launch these devices."

That's what Steve Ballmer said as Microsoft CEO when the company launched its Windows Phone 8 platform and it took the company many months to get developers on board. In some cases, Microsoft itself paid for the app development work.

Shuttleworth remains upbeat.

"We are very confident we'll have a good showing," he said.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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