When Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth announced today that the team behind the popular Ubuntu Linux operating system would be dropping the Unity desktop environment and going back to GNOME starting in 2018, I wondered what it means for the Ubuntu Phone project.
Apparently what it means is that Canonical is giving up on Ubuntu Phone.
Ars Technica reports that Canonical is ending all work on phones, tablets, and “convergence,” which was a project to make the same operating system run across those platforms as well as desktop and notebook computers.
In other words, if you want to buy a phone that can also work as a desktop computer, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Interestingly, while Canonical was one of the first companies to focus on bringing that vision to life, several other companies have made progress in recent years.
Microsoft’s Continuum for phone lets some Windows 10 Mobile devices connect to a keyboard, mouse and display for use as a sort of limited-use desktop PC. And the new Samsung Galaxy S8 line of Android phones support an optional DeX docking station that also lets you run apps in a user interface optimized for big screens.
Chinese startup Jide is also developing a custom version of Android for phones that will look like a smartphone OS on a mobile device and a desktop OS when connected to an external display.
A handful of phones and tablets have shipped with Ubuntu software over the past few years, and you can install the operating system on some third-party devices. But it’s still pretty rough around the edges and lacks many of the features found in more popular mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS.
A few years ago, it looked like Canonical was going to be just one of many companies looking to give Google and Apple some competition in the smartphone OS space. But now Mozilla’s Firefox OS is dead. Ubuntu phone is dead. And Jolla’s Sailfish OS is still under development, but the company behind the OS is on shaky ground.
I guess there’s still Samsung’s Tizen… but it still only ships on a few phones, and there are still a lot of issues it needs to overcome to become truly competitive.