A few days ago, Ubuntu announced its plans to marry its full desktop operating system with the Android mobile operating system. Ubuntu, of course, is mostly known for its Linux distribution, but the company has recently also branched out into consumer electronics with its Ubuntu for TV initiative. Today, we got a chance to spend some hands-on time with the first prototypes of Ubuntu for Android. While it's still obvious that this is a prototype, it's hard not to be positively surprised by the current state of the project.
Here is how it works in practice – and this is a bit similar to the experience with a Motorola Atrix: when you use your phone on the road, it's a regular Android phone. For the most part, you wouldn't even know that it is running Ubuntu as well. When you plug it into its base station however, it becomes a full-blown desktop system that you control with a mouse and keyboard. It even runs Ubuntu TV as well.
A Need for More Speed
The prototypes Ubuntu is using to demonstrate the operating system aren't among the fastest. It takes a little bit before applications like Chrome start up, for example. Ubuntu is quite aware of this, of course, and expects that the first phones with the operating systems will use faster, multi-core processors with more RAM than its current prototypes.
Once your applications are running, though, the desktop feels sufficiently speedy. Maybe the coolest feature of the desktop, though, as that you still have access to the full Android OS, too. You can still make calls, use Google Maps or any other app that runs on the phone. This isn't some emulator either. All the apps still run natively.
Ubuntu hasn't announced any partners yet that will manufacture the phone, but an Ubuntu representative told me that a number of top-tier manufacturers have already approach the company since it first announced this project a few days ago.
More Than a Gimmick
Going into the demo, I couldn't help but think that this was mostly going to be a gimmick, but after seeing the product in action, it does feel like the Ubunut team is on the right track. Chances are, your phone will never be as fast as that multi-core (but also power-hungry) desktop under your desk, but most users never really tap into this power anyway.
Ubuntu is aiming this feature at high-end users for now, but one could also imagine this as a smart solution for developing countries where phones are often peoples' only way of getting online.