Canonical Secures First Two Ubuntu Mobile Manufacturing Partners

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Canonical signs up bq and Meizu to make Ubuntu Mobile handsets, while CEO Mark Shuttleworth dismisses Tizen as a threat

Canonical has announced that the first two smartphones to ship with the Ubuntu operating system will be launched by Spanish smartphone manufacturer ‘bq’ and Chinese firm Meizu. These devices will be shown off at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.

The company said it had spoken to a number of manufacturers, some of them high profile, who will begin shipping devices in 2015, but it chose to go with the initial two partners because  they were prepared to focus more attention on the platform.

Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, would not disclose the names or specifications of the devices, other than that bq had a history of releasing dual-SIM smartphones and that specific markets will be targeted by each handset, although in theory, they could work anywhere.

Launch partners

Ubuntu Phones (3)“For us, it’s a very tactical choice to have two partners who are specialists in breaking into established markets,” he said in a call with journalists. “A new platform is a challenging proposition and we wanted to work with partners who understand that, and are themselves challengers.

“We expect to ramp up to additional manufacturing in 2015 and we are delighted to be working with household names, but we felt it was better for us to have partners for whom we would be a significant part of their story in 2014, rather than to be appended to the existing complicated stories of some of the brands.”

While not exactly Samsung or LG, securing hardware partners is a major boost for Ubuntu given the failure of the Ubuntu Edge to achieve its funding target, despite setting a number of records in its crowdfunding campaign last year.

“For us this is a very significant milestone and we are looking forward to the work between now and putting the devices into our customers’ hands,” added Shuttleworth.

App ecosystem

The company says much of its focus in the immediate future will be on growing the app ecosystem. It has set itself a target of ensuring that 50 most popular smartphone applications on Android and iOS will be available when the handsets are launched, and is confident of achieving this goal, given the support from the likes of Evernote and The Weather Channel, and that its HTML5 platform shares many similarities with Google’s.

Shuttleworth also spoke of Canonical’s desire to make Ubuntu the main alternative to Android rather than become the third largest mobile operating system in the world. He said that despite the increasing restrictions placed by Google, it was still essentially an open platform, and Ubuntu was unlikely to attract those using Windows Phone or BlackBerry – currently the third and fourth largest mobile operating systems.

Tizen “a fading force”

Ubuntu Phones (1)Ubuntu is just one of four mobile operating systems hoping to establish themselves as a genuine alternative, with Firefox OS, Sailfish OS and Tizen all hoping to make an impact in 2014. But Shuttleworth said its competitors were facing the harsh realities of trying to break into the smartphone market and dismissed Tizen as a credible threat altogether.

“We see it as much less of a competitor today than it was months ago,” he said. “All of the carriers who have publicly supported Tizen have now distanced themselves from the project. I think you will see announcements at MWC of Tizen being repurposed to other, interesting for sure, but still far out projects.

“We simply see Tizen as a fading force in this race to be the a credible alternative to Android,” he continued. “It’s highly unlikely Tizen will adopted by any manufacturer or shipped by any carrier. I think you can rule them out from the mobile space.”

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