The GNOME desktop environment is one of the most popular user interfaces and suites of apps available for desktop Linux distributions. Now a team of developers have been working to bring GNOME to mobile devices running Linux-based operating systems.

GNOME Shell for mobile provides a touch-friendly user interface optimized for smartphones and tablets. And while it looks a bit like Android or iOS at first glance, there are a few key differences. The GNOME team have outlined some of them in an article about recent updates to GNOME Shell on mobile.

Like other modern mobile user interfaces, you interact with GNOME shell using taps, swipes, and other gesture-based navigation.

What’s different is that Android has three different views for navigation: a home screen, app drawer, and multitasking view. iOS has two: home screen and multitasking. But GNOME Shell has a single screen that allows you to view and launch apps and switch between running apps using gestures. There’s no need to wait for a new screen to load.

In a nutshell, you can swipe up from the bottom of the any screen to view a list of installed apps, thumbnail images showing all currently running apps, and a search box. You can tap an app icon to launch a new app, enter a term in the search box to find an app, or swipe between running apps to switch which app runs in the foreground.

You can also keep swiping upward to shrink the multitasking thumbnails and provide more room for app icons. And you can flick thumbnail previews upward to remove an app from the multitasking section.

Typing in the search box will bring up relevant results including apps and settings.

Other recent updates to GNOME Shell for mobile include an improved keyboard optimized for narrow screens with support for gesture-based typing. The keyboard also does a better job of figuring out when to show up and when it should stay hidden, depending on what activities you’re using the phone for. And the Quick Settings view has been updated to include notifications in the same menu.

GNOME Shell is still very much a work in progress. Some of the features that aren’t available yet, but which are on the roadmap include support for emergency calls, haptic feedback, PIN unlock and phone calls from the lock screen.

You can find more details, as well as some additional brief demo videos, at the GNOME blog. Developers of postmarketOS are also working to add support for GNOME Shell to their mobile Linux distribution, so you may soon be able to install builds of the operating system on supported phones or other mobile devices with GNOME Shell pre-installed, or install it yourself from a repository.

GNOME Shell for mobile, by the way, isn’t the only GNOME-based user interface for mobile devices. Purism’s Phosh UI is also built on top of GNOME. It’s the default user interface for the company’s PureOS software that ships on the Librem 5 smartphone, and it’s been under development for years. Phosh is also available for other mobile Linux distributions.

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13 replies on “GNOME Shell for mobile Linux reimagines how a smartphone UI can work”

  1. Sorry dude. It doesn’t reimagine shit. It is just like any other android/ios device.

  2. what device has is this on… looks like a pinephone but is it the pro model or the og? If this is the OG pinephone, man that’s impressive – not that it isn’t on the pro just not as speed wise.

    1. It’s the Pro. The GNOME team was given a pinephone pro for testing/developing gnome-mobile

  3. It’s okay. But nowhere near as good as my UX.

    And as other commenters said, this is merely one problem with Linux. There are so many other/bigger ones when it comes to bringing it to mainstream…. that it will inevitably never arrive. (no AndroidOS does not qualify as a LinuxOS/Distro)

    1. Why not? lineage os for example is a android distro and uses the linux kernel.
      Why would not android be a linux distro in your mind? Is steamOS also not a linux distro?
      In fact Android IS a linux distro until they switch to the fuschia kernel (but that seems a bit far down the road). Android makes less use of the gnu tools than many other distros, of course, but so does lots of other distros as well, voidlinux uses musl and runit for example, but it is still linux.

      1. Most Linux Programs can’t run on Android. Few do, and some can be made to. Half of that is due to the x86-ARM disconnect, and the other half is that it doesn’t contain the libraries to run said code, or handle the packages.

        AndroidOS has far little in common with a LinuxOS, let’s say like Debian Stable.

        SteamOS is a Linux Distribution. It’s basically a fork of a fork, and they’re all mostly similar.

  4. It’s not the UIs that need improving on Linux phones… it’s getting them to work properly – that’s the work that needs to be done. :/

  5. GNOME is my favourite desktop paradigm, and in this mobile form it might be even nicer. That said, I do really like my homescreen widgets on Android so… I don’t know.

    1. Yeah I would say we need somewhere to rest. I mean, a vanilla desktop GNOME does have a blank desktop where you can rest when you’re not running an app.

  6. Looks really nice, its like Meego.

    You can use it with ubuntu touch? Or what os?

    1. Ubuntu Touch is also (mainly) a user interface. But you should be able to use the underlying Ubuntu system (which is mostly a normal Ubuntu distro) with this GNOME interface instead of the Touch interface.

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