Canonical is rolling out an over-the-air update for smartphones running its Ubuntu software. Ubuntu OTA-5 adds one key new feature, a few smaller features and bug fixes, and lays the groundwork for a very important new feature that probably won’t work on most phones currently running Ubuntu software.
First up is support for complete shell rotation. This lets you rotate your device and use it in either portrait or landscape mode. The user interface now adapts to you screen orientation so you can use gestures, shortcuts, and other features of your phone no matter how you’re holding it.
Previously if you’d switched from portrait to landscape mode, it’d be tough to interact with the bottom edge of apps, since swiping from the bottom would bring up the app menu as if you’d swiped from the left in portrait mode.
Another small change is that users can now edit reviews they’ve left in the Ubuntu app store. This lets you change a review for an app that you used to hate (or like) if an update makes it better (or worse).
The Unity user interface can now detect input devices such as a mouse or keyboard. This feature is still pretty new and may not work on all devices. But if you’ve got a phone running Ubuntu software you can now try to connect a Bluetooth mouse.
Ultimately this paves the way for something Canonical is calling Convergence: the ability to treat your smartphone as both a mobile phone and a desktop computer.
Since Ubuntu for phones shares a code base with Ubuntu for desktop or notebook computers, the idea is that you’ll be able to use mobile-friendly apps on the go and hook up a keyboard, mouse, and display to run full-fledged desktop apps when you’re at home or at the office.
Microsoft is building a similar feature (called “Continuum for phones”) into the next version of its Windows operating system for smartphones. But both Microsoft and Canonical suggest that their desktop/smartphone hybrid software will require a fair amount of processing power: both companies say that you probably won’t be able to take full advantage of the desktop-style features on current hardware. You’ll probably need to buy a new phone… once new phones that support Convergence/Continuum are available.