Yesterday we spoke briefly about a rumored feature in Android Jelly Bean that could turn any Android smartphone into a dockable desktop computer. Turns out that FOSS publisher Canonical seems to be one step ahead of El Goog: they’ve managed to cram both Ubuntu and Android Gingerbread onto the same hardware. In effect, it’s like using two different machines in different modes: when the smartphone is in its “normal” mode, it works like any Android handset. When it’s docked, you get access to the full Ubuntu interface. Based on the screenshots, you can run Android applications withing the Ubuntu interface, but probably no the other way around. You’ll also be able to view the phone’s screen while using Ubuntu on a monitor.
If you’re unfamiliar with Ubuntu… shame on you. It’s the most popular public-facing Linux derivative out there, and has made surprising in-roads into the desktop market, despite lacking the resources and marketing of Windows and OS X. And of course, since it’s open source, those with the skill and inclination can cram it onto strange hardware (including Android hardware like the Nook Color) or modify it however they see fit. Canonical is the corporation that oversees the “official” Ubuntu distributions, so Ubuntu for Android is very much an official arm of the main Ubuntu branch. The Ubuntu for Android build uses the new Unity interface, which draws a lot of inspiration from tablet and smartphone UIs.
Unfortunately, Ubuntu for Android won’t be gracing your Android phone or tablet any time soon. Though it’s being developed on a Motorola Atrix 2, Canonical is aiming the software at future Android hardware vendors, not consumers or developers. That’ll make the Ubuntu OS a value-add for new phones, not unlike Motorola’s existing WebTop platform (also Linux-based, and much more limited than the full Ubuntu). Ubuntu for Android will not be released to the public… though considering that it’s based on open-source code, it’ll have to be published in some form.
Canonical hopes to secure hardware partners for future device releases this year. Phones or tablets will need to have at least a dual-core processor with 512MB of RAM, plus HDMI-out. We’ll be keeping a close watch on Ubuntu for Android as it develops.