Quietly, Canonical has built Ubuntu Core into a true unified platform that runs across all manner of devices and screen sizes, from phones to IoT to desktops and more. If that sounds exactly like what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 10, that’s because it is, but Canonical has been demonstrating this unification -- “convergence,” the company calls it -- since at least Mobile World Congress 2015.
Microsoft is filling in a huge gap in its platform with Continuum and Windows 10 for mobile (slowly), and with an announcement this week, Ubuntu is adding to its own roster of unified devices with a tablet from BQ called the BQ Aquaris M10 (Ubuntu Edition).
Fully Desktop, Fully Mobile
With respect to BQ, the tablet itself is hardly the story, though. Canonical claimed that “Ubuntu is the only platform that runs both a mobile-based full touch interface and a true PC experience from a single smart device,” and in a brief (and somewhat low-res) webcast demo, the company showed how you can arrive at your desk, connect the tablet to a larger display and wireless mouse and keyboard, and enjoy a dual-screen experience.
The device autodetects that it’s connected to a larger display and kicks into full desktop mode. The demonstrator showed multiple applications running simultaneously in this mode, which is unlike the somewhat hamstrung “multitasking” Microsoft offers with a connected smartphone and Continuum.
On top of that, you also maintain access to the “scopes” on your Ubuntu mobile device, giving you both a desktop and mobile experience, and not "either/or." The underlying code is the same.
Therefore, despite the fact that "convergence" just sounds like marketspeak, it’s actually an entirely accurate way of describing the experience.
Hey, Was That A Phone?
Although device-wise, today’s announcement centers around the BQ Aquaris M10 tablet, Canonical casually showed a smartphone providing the same experience described above.
He plugged a phone into the display, and suddenly he had desktop control, including mouse and keyboard input. (It appears that he had a wireless keyboard and mouse previously connected.)
No one mentioned which phone it was, although it could be one of the ones from BQ or the more robust Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition. That is to say, it’s possibly not an especially high-end device. However, it could also be a yet-to-be-released phone; Canonical mentioned that there will be a smartphone announcement later this year that will offer this same level of convergence.
All of the above raises the question of performance. It’s one thing to be able to offer true multitasking from a mobile device that’s connected to a mouse and keyboard and is running a second display and automatically scales apps accordingly, but it’s quite another to do it well.
The thing about multitasking is that we tend to push the limits. It’s not uncommon for a tech journalist, for example, to simultaneously run his email, a couple of different web browsers (with way too many tabs open), a chat service, and Photoshop all at once. Considering how often and loudly one’s laptop may protest at such a load, there’s probably no way a tablet like the BQ Aquaris M10 can offer anything competitive.
The demos we saw were impressive, though, even though we didn’t get a chance to see the Canonical folks push the tablet to its limits.
Working With The Competition
Although Canonical is effectively competing against Microsoft here, Canonical CEO Jane Silber said that the company is actually working with Microsoft on cloud and IoT. For example, a tool like Office 365 should work just fine on Ubuntu, and therefore on Ubuntu Core (the underlying platform), and therefore on this tablet (and other future devices).
Further on that front, she said that Canonical is working hard to ensure that users will be able to continue using their favorite services with its platform, such as social media apps and other daily indispensables.
That’s wise, because as we’ve learned from Windows Phone, a robust app ecosystem is a key to success. Silber did not shy away from that issue. She readily admitted that no, there aren’t hundreds of thousands of apps available for Ubuntu (“Yet,” she qualified), but she stated that a growing number of apps and scopes written for smaller form factors are coming to larger form factors. The legacy Ubuntu software catalog is available, and devs can adapt their apps with the Ubuntu SDK.
The BQ Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition runs on a MediaTek SoC, but Silber said that Ubuntu Core is really SoC-agnostic. Therefore, it should run on ARM or x86 systems, which technically should blow wide open the possibilities for OEM partners. It’s unclear what the future holds in that regard, though; Canonical didn’t allude to any other hardware partners beyond BQ and its tablet for now. (We hope to learn more at Mobile World Congress later this month.)
|BQ Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition|
|Display||10.1 inch multi-touch, FHD|
|SoC||MediaTek quad-core MT8163A (up to 1.5 GHz)|
|Storage||16 GB (microSD slot for up to 64 GB more)|
|Camera||-Full HD (1080p) camera -8MP with autofocus and dual flash|
|Ports||Includes micro HDMI|
|Battery||7280 mAh Li-Po|
|Dimensions||246 x 171 x 8.2 mm|
BQ will announce availability and pricing for the Aquaris M10 in March.