There are times in standard social interactions where people ask what you do professionally, which means I end up talking about Ubuntu and specifically Ubuntu Phone. Many times that comes down to the seemingly simple question: “Why would I want an Ubuntu phone?” I’ve tried the answer “becasue I’m a thought leader and you should want to be like me,” but sadly that gets little traction outside of Silicon Valley. Another good answer is all the benefits of Free Software, but many of those are benefits the general public doesn’t yet realize they need.

Ubuntu Phone

The biggest strength and weakness of Ubuntu Phone is that it’s a device without an intrinsic set of services. If you buy an Android device you get Google Services. If you buy an iPhone you get Apple services. While these can be strengths (at least in Google’s case) they are effectively a lock in to services that may or may not meet your requirements. You certainly can get Telegram or Signal for either of those, but they’re never going to be as integrated as Hangouts or iMessage. This goes throughout the device including things like music and storage as well. Ubuntu and Canonical don’t provide those services, but instead provide integration points for any of them (including Apple and Google if they wanted) to work inside an Ubuntu Phone. This means as a user you can use the services you want on your device, if you love Hangouts and Apple Maps, Ubuntu Phone is happy to be a freak with you.

Carriers are also interested in this flexibility. They’re trying to put together packages of data and services that will sell, and fetch a premium price (effectively bundling). Some they may provide themselves and some by well known providers; but by not being able to select options for those base services they have less flexibility on what they can do. Sure, Google and Apple could give them a great price or bundle, but they both realize that they don’t have to. So that effectively makes it difficult for the carriers as well as alternate service providers (e.g. Dropbox, Spotify, etc) to compete.

What I find most interesting thing about this discussion is that it is the original reason that Google bought Android. They were concerned that with Apple controlling the smartphone market they’d be in a position to damage Google’s ability to compete in services. They were right. But instead of opening it up to competition (a competition that certainly at the time and even today they’re likely to win) they decided to lock down Android with their own services. So now we see in places like China where Google services are limited there is no way for Android to win, only forks that use a different set of integrations. One has to wonder if Ubuntu Phone existed earlier whether Google would have bought Android, while Ubuntu Phone competes with Android it doesn’t pose any threat to Google’s core businesses.

It is always a failure to try and convince people to change their patterns and devices just for the sake of change. Early adopters are people who enjoy that, but not the majority of people. This means that we need to be an order of magnitude better, which is a pretty high bar to set, but one I enjoy working towards. I think that Ubuntu Phone has the fundamental DNA to win in this race.

posted Jan 14, 2017 | permanent link