The Ubuntu phone is about to go on sale, but curb your enthusiasm

Finally, after many delays, the first Ubuntu phone is about to hit the market. In Europe. And only through a series of online flash sales. And you’ve almost certainly never heard of the manufacturer.

On the plus side, it will come with quite a few recognizable mobile services, including [company]Facebook[/company], [company]Twitter[/company], [company]eBay[/company], [company]Amazon[/company], [company]Time Out[/company], [company]Yelp[/company], [company]SoundCloud[/company] and [company]Grooveshark[/company]. It won’t have WhatsApp but it will have the Telegram encrypted messaging service. However, given how Canonical has talked up Ubuntu for phones in the last few years, it’s hard not to feel let down.

Great expectations

Canonical promised a uniquely converged device that behaves like a phone until it’s plugged into a keyboard and monitor, at which point it becomes a fully-fledged Ubuntu desktop. The Ubuntu Edge crowdfunding campaign was a record-breaker even though that flagship concept phone would never be made, but still failed to pique the interest of major manufacturers.

The device that will go on sale next week is a variant of the Aquaris E4.5, a modest handset from Spanish manufacturer BQ, which is slightly better known for making e-readers. It will certainly be on the cheaper side at €170 ($193), and it will have two SIM slots, but otherwise the specs are quite middling: a quad-core processor running at “up to 1.3GHz”, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, an 8MP back camera and a 5MP front camera.

The key differentiator is of course the software, which is based on Ubuntu’s “Scopes” concept. Rather than using a grid of app icons, Scopes aggregates content from various services into type-specific screens, such as music, video and news. It’s a radically different approach in a mobile scene that is so tuned to the Android/iOS user experience, and I fear Canonical will struggle to show it off properly without putting phones in physical shops.

Ubuntu phone Scopes feature

Ubuntu phone Scopes feature

What would give the company a ready-made audience would be that converged handset/desktop thing we were promised. So when’s that happening? According to Canonical mobile chief Cristian Parrino, it’s “part of our future vision.” Parrino said in a Thursday pre-brief, “In the next couple of releases there will be major improvements on that story.”

Drones not phones

Given that this feature was supposed to appear almost a year and a half ago, when Ubuntu mobile first became available to flash onto certain Android devices, you’ll forgive me for not holding my breath. Oh, and that whole thing about putting Ubuntu onto Android phones without having to de-Androidify them? That’s also not happening because (unsurprisingly) “it doesn’t have backing from the industry.”

Ubuntu phones also won’t be able to run the “snappy” apps that people will be building for the Ubuntu Core connected-devices push – which just got a big boost through the appearance of the Core-supporting Raspberry Pi 2 — because, while snappy/Core evolved out of the “click” app packaging mechanism used on Ubuntu for phones, Ubuntu handsets are still stuck on click. This is, Parrino said, a “timing issue.”

I’m a lot more confident about Ubuntu’s future in drones than I am about its future in phones. The promise of mobile Ubuntu is hugely attractive, but it’s not what’s being delivered this month, and I’m not sure how Canonical is going to get from here to there.

But anyway, perhaps I’m being overly harsh. It’s not like the handset is super-expensive, after all. If you’re in Europe and you want one, keep an eye on the Ubuntu and BQ social media channels on Monday for announcements of the flash sale dates. SIM cards from 3 Sweden, Spain’s Amena, the U.K. GiffGaff and Portugal Telecom will also be offered at checkout, if you’re in one of those countries.

Windows 10 and Ubuntu prepare for IoT battle on Raspberry Pi 2

The Raspberry Pi 2, announced Monday, looks set to be a focal point for the internet-of-things (IoT) development efforts of both Microsoft and Canonical – both will be providing free operating systems for the low-cost device.

Because the $35 quad-core computer is based on the ARMv7 architecture, it is powerful enough to run the recently announced Ubuntu Core, a lightweight version of the popular Linux distribution that will work across drones, robots, smart devices and home hubs. That much was clear from the specs – earlier Raspberry Pis used unsuitable architecture – and the Ubuntu Core image for Raspberry Pi 2 is already available, but the news that a free version of Windows 10 will also run on the device is more of a surprise.

In a Monday blog post, Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton wrote:

For the last six months we’ve been working closely with Microsoft to bring the forthcoming Windows 10 to Raspberry Pi 2. Microsoft will have much more to share over the coming months. The Raspberry Pi 2-compatible version of Windows 10 will be available free of charge to makers.

Microsoft’s internet of things efforts have so far generally been limited to the provision of a cloud back-end in the form of Azure, but in July last year the company rolled out an IoT developer program with a focus on Intel’s x86-based Galileo board.

The Raspberry Pi has a huge following in the maker community, though, which is doubtless why [company]Microsoft[/company] is making Windows 10 available for that device as well as for the Arduino-compatible Galileo.

Here’s what Microsoft had to say in its own Raspberry Pi 2 blog post:

Windows 10 is the first step to an era of more personal computing. This vision framed our work on Windows 10, where we are moving Windows to a world that is more mobile, natural and grounded in trust. With the Windows for IoT developer program we’re bringing our leading development tools, services and ecosystem to the Raspberry Pi community!

We see the Maker community as an amazing source of innovation for smart, connected devices that represent the very foundation for the next wave of computing, and we’re excited to be a part of this community.