He said that "there is an effective duopoly in mobile between Android and Apple. BlackBerry and
Targeting the 25%
The target of the "Android alternative" for carriers, he suggested, was "25% of users demand a smartphone but use it just as a phone. They don't buy apps or content. They're expensive to service, because they've got these smartphones, but they don't generate data revenues or much content revenue."
That 25%, he suggested, would be ideal users of Ubuntu Mobile.
But, I asked, doesn't that mean that Ubuntu Mobile would be aiming at the low-end user, rather than the high-end who had been targeted by the Edge project? "We're talking about mid- to high-end phones - none of these is a superphone [like the Edge]. The Edge is a concept car, not quite like Formula 1, which 40% of people could drive. But we're also working on putting a phone that's the equivalent of a mass-market car on the road. I would very much like to see the Edge but I didn't expect that the majority of Ubuntu Mobile users would come through the Edge - but through retail. Frankly, we'd see handset makers rebadge their Android phones and put Ubuntu Mobile on it."
He says that Ubuntu would be preferable to Android, Firefox OS or Samsung's much-delayed Tizen: "Android is fragmented. Each model comes with modifications made by the manufacturer. And Android has struggled to build a clean, coherent user experience. The carriers feel the 25% could want an Ubuntu phone."
Meanwhile, he says that Firefox OS has the weakness that "everything it does is in the browser, and that isn't necessarily going to be recognised by websites as a mobile browser - so you get the desktop site on your mobile screen. Ubuntu uses a WebKit-based browser [like Apple's MobileSafari and Google Chrome] so you get the mobile one."
Shuttleworth cited a number of branded handset manufacturers which he says have shown off prototypes of Ubuntu Mobile phones to US carriers. "We have 12 carriers who say they want Ubuntu." But he acknowledges "they haven't said that they will ship Ubuntu phones, no."
What then is the USP - unique selling point - for Ubuntu Mobile? If Apple offers "a computer in your pocket and a galaxy of apps", and Android offers the same built around
Did the lack of support from enterprises - with only 1 of the offered 50 "enterprise" slots, at
He insisted too that the key idea behind the Ubuntu Edge - of a phone that could also double as a desktop - was one that would come to fruition. "Four years ago, McKinsey did a survey of people and asked them if they were going to stop carrying a laptop in favour of their smartphones, and the figure saying yes was surprisingly high. Now, they do that survey every year, and that number has gone down."
But isn't that because the 2009 survey predated the iPad - and that since then tablets have become the second mobile device, so that people don't need to think about their laptop, but can carry a tablet instead? "We think as people work out how to get a productive experience, they'll want to put their phone down by a piece of glass - some sort of screen - and what you type appears on the glass. You can hook up a keyboard and you can work right there."
Yet the reality seems to be that the price was too high for the perceived usefulness of the device. The Ubuntu Edge will now go down as a project which aimed high - but ultimately fell to earth.
Shuttleworth though is undaunted. Getting Ubuntu Mobile adopted by carriers and handset makers "is a challenging proposition. But I wasn't made for the easy ones."
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