It’s almost impossible for a new platform to break into the smart phone market.
Android and iOS devices have rich app ecosystems, and any new entrant will have to find a way to get big-name developers to create apps for its platform.
So how will the first Ubuntu smart phone catch customers’ eyes? It’ll do away with apps entirely, offering a new model called Scopes.
Scopes are simple dashboards similar to Android widgets. They offer bits of information depending on a user’s needs and location – so rather than launching a SoundCloud app to listen to a certain station, an Ubuntu user can flick over to the Music Scope, where SoundCloud tracks mingle with songs stored locally on the phone. The idea is to offer faster access to different pieces of content, rather than segregating that content into separate apps.
Out of the box, the Ubuntu phone will have Scopes for Music, Video, News, and more. Each screen aggregates content from supported sources, and users can tap on a particular source to go to the appropriate page (for example, tapping on a SoundCloud track will take you to SoundCloud).
Scopes are simpler to develop than traditional apps, and the makers of the Ubuntu phone hope that big developers will be enticed to the platform by the ease of coding a Scope. The phone launches with support from SoundCloud, Grooveshark, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Evernote, and a handful of other companies. If developers don’t jump on board, the Linux coding community may be able to fill the gaps by creating Scopes using companies’ APIs.
The Ubuntu phone is made by Canonical, the company behind the open-source Ubuntu Linux computer operating system, and BQ, a Spanish hardware manufacturer. The BQ Aquarius E4.5 Ubuntu Edition, as it’s known, has a 4.5-inch display, a 5-megapixel front camera, 8-megapixel rear camera, and 8GB of internal storage.
Those are pretty modest specs, and crucially, the phone doesn’t work with 4G LTE networks. (It’s being launched in Europe, where LTE networks are far less common than in the US and Asia.) Canonical admits that the handset is meant for developers and bleeding-edge early adopters, rather than the iPhone crowd. The Ubuntu phone is being sold via “flash sales” that will be announced on Ubuntu’s Twitter and Facebook pages beginning on February 9. The phone will cost 170 Euros, or just a hair under $200.