Guest post by Ed Hewitt
Earlier this month, Canonical held its first press event to unveil its phone operating system, Ubuntu for Phone. This is a product many have speculated would happen after the launch of Unity, providing a touch interface, as well as Canonical bringing Ubuntu to Android devices.
While Ubuntu for Android allows the Ubuntu desktop to run on a smartphone device via a computer dock, Ubuntu for Phone is a complete smartphone OS to challenge iOS and Android. I believe Ubuntu for Phone is dead on arrival; it will fail.
One of the first challenges Canonical needs to overcome is the hardware partners. Canonical management has claimed that they expect Ubuntu smartphones in 2014; however, until I see a device, I’m not holding my breath. The smartphone market is incredibly competitive. Many of the large manufacturers are struggling to keep up.
For example, HTC has been reporting losses quarter on quarter. Hardware manufacturers will find it hard to bet on an unproven platform. Samsung, Sony, and Motorola are having great success with Android. HTC is already playing across two platforms, and Nokia has dedicated its future to Windows Phone. This leaves Canonical with the smaller manufacturers such as Huawei and LG. Providing they find a hardware partner, will the device itself be any good? Poor hardware and build quality will affect the success of Ubuntu on phones. We have seen Samsung produce poor Windows Phone devices – just to have a device on that platform. We could see Canonical’s hardware partners doing a similar thing.
The next hurdle Canonical has to get over is carrier support – providing it has a device to sell them. Carriers can make or break the success of a device. They are the ones who will buy the device from the hardware manufacturer and sell it to their customers. If they don’t believe it will sell, they will not be interested. The most famous example of this is Palm’s WebOS. Carriers killed WebOS.
After HP ended development of WebOS, Jon Rubinstein (CEO of Palm) was interviewed by Josh Topolsky of The Verge. Palm’s WebOS devices were picked up by Sprint and Verizon in the US, since neither carrier had the iPhone at the time. Both were prepared to market and sell the device to their customers; however, Verizon heavily marketed the new Motorola Droid, and Sprint did not have a large enough customer base to sell the Palm Pre. Although many journalists in the industry praised both the hardware and software, carrier support was lacking, and subsequently Palm, and eventually HP, struggled to generate interest.
This could happen to Canonical. The software could be killer, the hardware could be excellent; but if carriers are not prepared to sell and market a device, Ubuntu for Phones is not going anywhere.
Canonical could do what Google is doing, by selling its Nexus devices unlocked, off-contract from its website. This will avoid the carriers. However, I do not believe that this will work. It still requires heavy marketing to attract attention, it needs to be priced competitively, and Canonical may not have the infrastructure in place to sell and ship a device. They need the carrier support – mainly to hit the mass market – and the ability to sell the device to the average Joe.
The final roadblock that Canonical will hit is app support – this is the Achilles heel for all computing platforms. You may have a brilliant platform, but, if you don’t have the apps people want, you are a dead platform. The reason iOS and Android are so successful is because they have the killer apps which customers want. They want to be able to access Facebook, listen to music on Spotify, watch films on Netflix, use navigation with Google Maps, play a quick game of Angry Birds. Both Blackberry and Microsoft have had this issue; they are struggling to get the developers on board to produce apps for their platforms, and they both have reasonably sized user bases.
Many developers have already said they are not interested in producing apps for Blackberry and Windows Phone. Recently, Google has said it will be supporting only Android and iOS. Canonical is bringing a 5th platform for developers to make apps for, and I can’t see them doing it, and this is discounting all the other minor smartphone OSs out there. There are too many platforms trying to build an app ecosphere. If they are not willing to support Microsoft and RIM, why would they support Canonical?
Providing Canonical finds a hardware partner, gains the carriers’ support, and has a wealth of popular applications, there is still the competition to deal with. As of December 2012, Android and iOS make up about 85% of the world’s smartphones. They will be the dominant platforms for the foreseeable future. However, there is also third place to battle for, but that is already locked down between Windows Phone and Blackberry. It will be an interesting 2013 for these two. Windows Phone 8 will be seen on more devices, and RIM will be releasing Blackberry 10. Fifth and sixth places are currently held by Symbian and Bada and it’s highly unlikely they will move from those spots. Plus, there are the minor smartphone platforms – which is where Ubuntu for Phones will likely sit. Here’s the list of the major minor platforms; there are a few more:
- Firefox OS
- Microsoft paying developers to port apps over to Windows Phone
- The Rise and Fall of Palm
- Gmail drop support for Exchange Active Sync
- Blackberry Z10 Review
- Windows Phone 8 Review
- Ubuntu Phone to have issues
- Latest Smartphone Market
- What the hell happen to Ubuntu’s only chance of success
- Blackberry 10 has apps people actually want! – No terminal app in sight!