We got a chance to check out a demonstration of Ubuntu's mobile operating system that was announced
at the start of the year. It was running on a GSM-version of the Galaxy Nexus, and was certainly impressive when viewed from a close distance. The graphics look clean and smooth, without any hiccups on what is an older, though one-time flagship device.
The home screen of the handset features recently-used apps as well as recent calls. All edges of the phone outside of the screen are used, with the left used to launch apps, the bottom to control them and bring up contextual options like sharing or editing, the top to browse through them through indicators or launch the settings screen and without ever leaving the app you're currently in. The right edge is used to multitask and quickly view all currently running apps. Going back to the home screen is done with a quick swipe to the right. Replying to a text or social network messages can also be done by simply swiping down, without the need to leave the current app or launch a new, which seems pretty handy.
The minimum hardware requirements for the OS include a dual-core Cortex A9 CPU running at 1GHz and 512MB of RAM, which is fairly low by today's standards. Once it does launch, an app store will be launched at the same time, with pricing similar to the established players, ranging from free to $1 or so and up to $10 or beyond, depending on the app.
We glimpsed the demo device had a Facebook icon on it, though the app wasn't launched for our viewing pleasure. The camera app was demonstrated, and it supports the same lag-free shutter as the standard Galaxy Nexus. There are no buttons in the gallery app for example, up until a user wants to swipe up to reveal them, again making for a clean overall look. Like Ubuntu says, this makes for a more spacious design or at the very least much more efficient use of the screen's real estate.
Ubuntu's current desktop apps are coded in HTML5 and QML, so the existing apps should be fairly easy to port over to the mobile version. As the most popular desktop Linux build, it also enjoys a large developer ecosystem. The phones will include both Chrome and Firefox web browsers.
The first phone to get the build will be the GSM version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, though Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) is reportedly working on its own hardware and seeking partners in both handset makers and operators to build out and reach a wider audience. The company believes the first market to offer a genuine Ubuntu phone will be somewhere in Western Europe. This won't happen until late in the year and pricing information is only said to be competitive.