In just a few weeks Canonical will be releasing their open source mobile phone OS for users to install on their Android devices. With so many mixed opinions about it we decided to go along to Canonical HQ to see for ourselves how they’re going to wedge the OS into the mobile market.
The guys at Canonical have pushed the boat out in terms of differentiation, rethinking how mobile devices could be used. One of their realisations is that mobile interfaces don’t need as many buttons as they do now and have developed an interface which minimises them as much as possible, opting for gestures instead.
Ivo Weevers (head of design) showed us how a user could operate the phone without having to sift through masses of tiled apps. Swiping from the left pops out a sidebar listing the most used apps. Ivo tells us that the typical user only uses a selection of apps for day-to-day use, so hiding the others makes perfect sense.
What impressed me the most though was their ingenious notification menu. Setting interfaces always seem to be an afterthought with mobiles. Both iOS and Android are guilty of burying settings within categories and subcategories. Canonical have addressed this issue by giving the user access to many settings directly from the notification menu by tapping the icons on the status bar and then dragging down. The user can then swipe from left to right to change the contents of the menu, revealing alternative settings.
At the beginning of the year there were concerns from some that the OS had performance issues, but we didn’t see any noticeable problems apart from the odd glitch, and to be fair we were switching between a movie, camera and gallery – something even Android often fails at. As a whole we were satisfied with the performance and would match it to that of Jelly Bean, opposed to earlier versions of Android.
We asked Ivo what Canonical’s plan of attack is regarding distribution of the OS. We know already that the source code will be released at the end of February with flashable images following some time after, but It doesn’t look like there’ll be an Ubuntu branded handset. They do say though that they’re talking to mobile manufacturers.