On Tuesday Canonical revealed Ubuntu for Android, a release the company says will bring a full desktop computing experience to a docked Android smartphone. But don't expect to install this software on your current device (legally): it will only be available on new devices provided by participating manufacturers.
Canonical has reportedly combined the Ubuntu architecture with Google's 2.3 "Gingerbread" AOSP build at the kernel level. As the name indicates, it won't be out to compete with Apple's iOS, Microsoft's Windows Phone or even Android itself as a standalone OS, but serve as a "value-add" service that Canonical hopes will reduce the number of devices carried by Android consumers.
"Why carry two devices, when you could carry only one?" reads the Ubuntu for Android website. "Your next high-end smartphone has far more horsepower than you’ll need on a phone, and more than enough for a laptop. So we’ve brought Android together with Ubuntu, the world’s favorite free operating system, to give you a full productivity desktop that fits in your pocket. Android for the phone experience, Ubuntu for the desktop, all on one device, running at the same time."
According to Canonical, the software requires "minimal" custom hardware enablement, meaning it will be installed at the manufacturer level, and won't be possible to install on existing handsets. However since both Ubuntu and Android will share the same Gingerbread kernel, both will run concurrently when the device is docked. This allows both mobile and desktop functionality to co-exist in different runtimes.
"Shared services and applications are delivered using a Convergence API module which ensures the tight integration between desktop and mobile environments," Canonical reports. "Work is balanced across the cores of the phone. When the handset is not docked, both CPU cores transfer their full power to Android."
Hardware requirements for Ubuntu on Android include an ARM-based dual-core 1 GHz SoC (x86 may be possible in the future), 512 MB of RAM, HDMI output with a secondary frame buffer device, 2 GB of storage for the OS disk image, USB host mode, and video acceleration (shared kernel driver with associated X driver; Open GL, ES/EGL).
Consumers with Ubuntu installed on their Android smartphone won't notice anything different outside the typical Android experience, making calls, surfing the web and playing Angry Birds like any other Android smartphone user. But once the gadget is docked, users will get the full Unity desktop environment on the big screen. And based on screenshots, it appears that several Android apps will appear in a window, granting access to emails, SMSes, contacts and more without having to undock the phone. Even more, phone calls can be sent and received while the phone is still docked.
"Manage and view photos stored on your smartphone using the Ubuntu Gallery application. Then edit them on the Ubuntu desktop and save them back to the phone. Create, edit and consume, all on one device," Canonical states. "All your Android social network account credentials are synchronised seamlessly, using the Ubuntu social networking client to provide easy access to your online communities."
Ubuntu for Android is expected to make an appearance next week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. To learn more about this piggy-backing OS, head here. Canonical is providing the software only, so we may see manufacturers like Samsung and whatnot showcase compatible docks and smartphones during the show too.