London-based open-source computer software developer Canonical has given itself what appears to be a mammoth task with the immanent launch in Europe of its first Ubuntu-based smartphone.
Is this a fair assessment? The phone has some attractive features. The interface (dubbed “Scopes” by Canonical) is gesture-based and places the homescreen focus on a number of themed cards that pull various categories of content together. Users simply swipe between them to work their way round the phone’s functions (app icons appear in a vertical line at the side of the screen, or collated together on a single Scope card).
The themes include a “Nearby” card that brings up location-specific local services, a “Music” card (self-explanatory), a “Today” card that features topical information like the calendar and the weather, and a “News” card that features a variety of articles all in one place. It makes a refreshing change to the grid of apps we’ve all become accustomed to on Android and iOS.
So the software is pretty snazzy. The phone’s hardware, however, is a fairly standard mid-tier offering from Spain’s BQ. It’s the Ubuntu version of BQ’s Aquarius E4.5 (which normally runs on Android) and, rather prosaically, it’s called the “Aquarius E4.5 Ubuntu Edition.” The retail price is about €169.90 (£125).
Will Canonical be able to attract enough developers to build sufficient content for its platform to really take off? It’s a tough call to bring developers to such a small OS. And will it persuade enough consumers to come to a new UI that involves them learning new mobile tricks? Given that it’s only going to be available online, they can’t even try before they buy.
Canonical’s VP of Mobile, Cristian Parrino, is certainly making a brave face of it. He told Engadget:
“We are going for the mass market. But that’s a gradual process and a thoughtful process. That’s something we’re going to be doing intelligently over time — but we’ll get there.”