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CNN Predict Ubuntu Phone ‘Won’t Make Inroads’

CNN Don't See Much Hope for Canonical's Latest Venture...

The Ubuntu Phone will fail to make ‘the tiniest of inroads’ against the mobile market dominant players, according to CNN Money’s Adrian Covert.

In a post titled ‘”The Ubuntu smartphone (which no one will use) is a glimpse of the future“, Covert argues that the failure of Motorola’s ‘dockable’ Atrix device, and the tepid reception to Microsoft’s Windows 8 are indications that a fully convergent single ‘OS’ across devices isn’t something consumers have an appetite for.

At least, not yet.

Ubuntu Founder Mark Shuttleworth With the Ubuntu Phone

Now, Covert doesn’t claim to be a psychic, but he is a journalist with years of experience in this sector.

But are his pessimistic assumptions accurate? Or has he missed the real lure of the Ubuntu Phone idea?

‘Duopoly’

It’s the nature of tech journalism that, at a mere 2 days post reveal, the fate of the Ubuntu Phone has already been called.

It’s an easy assumption to make, largely because the smartphone market is in the stranglehold of what Covert refers to as a ‘duopoly’.

iOS rules the high-end (not a critical judgement of mine, simply there isn’t a mid-range iPhone). Android, meanwhile, commands both a slice of high-end, and most of the mid-ranged market. Low-end Android devices are becoming more plentiful, but few (if any) get good reviews.

With a good year set to pass before an Ubuntu Phone goes on sale in a store, ready for us to exchange cash for, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android will inevitably further cement their stranglehold on these respect smartphone segments during this time.

But it’s here where commentators like Covert are missing the point.

See, Ubuntu Phones aren’t really going to claw much market share away from Apple or Google. And this neat ‘dock your phone and use it as a desktop’ feature, whilst innovative, won’t be the main lure for many.

In fact chances are it won’t even feature on the majority of Ubuntu Phones…

‘Starter Smartphones’

Phrases like ‘starter smartphone’ were used to describe it…

During his keynote address earlier this week, Mark Shuttleworth continually referred to ‘emerging’ markets as the battleground on which an Ubuntu Phone would fight it out for impact.

Phrases like ‘starter smartphone’ and ‘feature-phone upgraders’ were used to describe the device and its audience.

It’s this sector, the low-end, that the battle for the hearts, minds and hands of the less tech-savvy will take place.

Design and engineering emphasis placed on providing a ‘crisper, sharper’ user experience on ‘low-end’ hardware than that currently offered. Focus is as every bit on the “phone” fuction as it is on the “smart”.

No bolting on of traditional phone features as an afterthought to shiner, more fancy features. And these fancy features include the ‘desktop’ docking mode.

It’s this attention that I find the real key differentiator.

Balanced: The Ubuntu Phone is as much of a ‘phone’ as it is a ‘smartphone’

Rivals Yet to Arrive

But Ubuntu is not alone in looking to conquer it.

Later this year Mozilla will launch the first Firefox OS phones in Latin America. As will Jolla (made from the carcass of MeeGo). As will the Linux-based Tizen.

Short of Android forking itself to run fantastically on low-powered phones (unlikely: carriers/OEMS make money from super-fast handsets capable of running the current-gen OS); and short of a mid-range iPhone appearing, Ubuntu is well placed against its expectant rivals.

Covert summarises that:

“At best, Ubuntu seems like a sandbox for the most enthusiastic early adopters and a cheap enterprise solution for companies on a tight budget.”

How likely that proves to be true will depend on what Ubuntu’s rivals can bring to the table – and how soon they can bring it. It’s all to play for.

Time, not the dominance of Android, will be the ultimate decider in this war.