With Ubuntu in the Mix, 2014 is the Year of the Open Source Phone

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 21, 2014

We've only hit February, and it already looks like 2014 is going to be the year of the open source phone. Not only is Android continuing to dominate the smartphone space in terms of market share, but Mozilla is widening its Firefox OS phone strategy and Canonical announced this week that Spain's bq and China's Meizu will be the first companies to bring Ubuntu smartphones to global users.

Canonical has remained busy enhancing the architecture of the Ubuntu Desktop, pushed into the television market, and is now going to pursue making Ubuntu a viable mobile phone platform.

In conjunction with the announcement of Ubuntu phones, Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth confirmed that development work on the first phones is already underway. Given the first two manufacturers, it won't be a surprise to see Canonical pursue a strategy similar to Mozilla's with Firefox OS, targeting emerging markets. However, we also know that devices will be available to buy online through bq, Meizu at Ubuntu.com, and carriers have shown interest, so Ubuntu phones could show up everywhere.

Meizu is one of China’s most successful high-end smartphone manufacturers with over 1,000 employees, 600 retail stores and a global presence in China, Hong Kong, Israel, Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile, bq is a manufacturer of multimedia devices operating in Europe and employing 600 people. In 2013, the company shipped almost 1.5 million devices and in less than a year has become the Spain’s second biggest seller of unlocked smartphones.

“Ubuntu’s ongoing success on PCs, as well as the huge support it has gained for its mobile proposition provides the best opportunity to bring an alternative platform to market on our hardware,” Alberto Mendez, bq's CEO, stated.

For his part, Mark Shuttleworth took a shot at Android and the iPhone in his announcement: “The mobile industry has long been looking for a viable alternative to those that reign today. Ubuntu puts the control back into the hands of our partners and presents an exciting platform for consumers, delivering an experience which departs from the tired app icon grid of Android and iOS and provides a fluid, content-rich experience for all.”

According to the announcement:

"Carriers and major industry players that Canonical has engaged with have also shown their support for Ubuntu and an alternative operating system for the mobile market. To date, Ubuntu’s Carrier Advisory Group has 16 members including Vodafone, EE, T-Mobile USA, Three Group, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, Telstra and Portugal Telecom. Canonical is also working with a breadth of ISV partners, including The Weather Channel, GrooveShark, Evernote and more, to bring the best applications and services to Ubuntu."

You can watch a video Q&A on Ubuntu phones here

All the way back in 2010, I wrote a post on whether we would see open source mobile platforms that could compete with Android. Four years later, some of the biggest open source players are squarely focused on that goal. It will be interesting to see how Ubuntu and Firefox OS phones stack up at the end of 2014.