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Don’t Expect Ubuntu Phones from Major OEMs Before 2015, Says Jono Bacon

icon-redesign-contextMark Shuttleworth recently stoked hopes of “household brands” shipping Ubuntu-powered phones, but Canonical’s Community Manager has seemingly poured cold water on it happening any time soon.

Jono Bacon, speaking in an informal AMA on Reddit, explains that while he ‘would love to see major OEM/Carriers shipping Ubuntu handsets’ he’d be ‘surprised’ if any hit the market before 2015.

‘I would be surprised if we see [major OEMs shipping Ubuntu Touch] before 2015′

In the short term, smaller manufacturers serving specific regions are most likely to bring the first wave of devices. The risks and costs involved in ‘trailing a device‘ are smaller for these OEMs, Bacon suggest, than it is for bigger, more internationally-minded companies.

Snaring support from smaller OEMs will make for less splashy press but in the long term could aid Canonical in courting bigger players, both on the hardware and the software side.

Impressive sales of an Ubuntu-powered phone would act as irresistible bait to other OEMs and ISVs, leading to renewed interest, application support and, most tantalisingly of all, the potential for further handsets.

‘We Don’t Have Many Apps’

But just who is the ‘ideal’ Ubuntu Phone customer? Early adopters? Tech-phobes? Students?

‘The ideal [Ubuntu Phone] customer is someone who wants a dependable device.’

Entering a market with well-known, established loyalties fixed firmly in place will pose a problem. Unlike Firefox OS, which Mozilla has wisely pitched at emerging markets and low-powered devices, Canonical has stated it plans to target the mid-range and high-end with its mobile OS. It’s certainly the most profitable, with lots of money to be made, but lots of functionality is expected in return.

“I think the ideal [Ubuntu Phone] customer today is someone who wants a dependable device,” Bacon posits, “but [one who] does not require a large catalogue of specific apps (as we don’t have many of them yet).”

It’s a strange niche on which to hinge entry into an entrenched hierarchy. ‘Dependable’ as a selling point is rather vague, as is the notion that an anaemic app catalogue will command a premium over feature phones and low-end mobiles from Android and Nokia.

But, it seems, we won’t have to speculate on these points for much longer.

The curtailing of engineering work on Ubuntu Touch builds for several Nexus devices, announced early this week, points, however subtly, to a rejigging of priorities behind the scenes. The first Ubuntu Phones may be being prepped – and when they arrive, so too will answers to all of our questions.