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Ubuntu for Android: Turn your phone into a desktop

Though you can catch workarounds and installs of Ubuntu on devices like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime on YouTube, Canonical is set on launching its own version of Ubuntu for Android, bringing full desktop functions to the Android platform.

Much like how the Linux-based Webtop OS on the Motorola Atrix works, Ubuntu for Android will run in the background on the same kernel and then launch when you connect your phone to an external monitor and Qwerty keyboard.

We caught up with Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth who talked us through some of the main points of Ubuntu for Android.

The first thing to note is that this is full Ubuntu; there’s “no compromise on the Ubuntu experience with Ubuntu for Android.” So any programs that you’d normally be able to run on Ubuntu you’ll be able run using the hardware of your Android phone.

Ubuntu for Android runs in tandem with Android in the background. Any texts that come through when your docked will pop up on the screen like Skype notifs and, again, like Webtop OS you’d get a condensed ‘mobile view’ of what’s on the phone’s screen. Likewise, you ought to be able to launch Android apps like Spotify when docked through this mobile view window.

Ubuntu for Android minimum specifications

The second main point is the minimum hardware requirements for Android devices is fairly high. Required spec for Ubuntu for Android will include a dual-core processor with a speed of at least 1.2GHz, a GPU that can drive two displays simultaneously and an HDMI connection.

Connections with MHL – like those on the Samsung Galaxy S2 and HTC’s Sensation line-up – ought to work too, provided you’ve got the required cables.

Though Ubuntu for Android has been tested and developed on the Motorola Atrix 2, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich will be supported and may also be a minimum requirement post-launch.

Shuttleworth was enthusiastic about the emerging dual-core and quad-core Android phones, saying that the goal was to “leverage the strength of Android in that form factor,” and “look to run a full productivity experience on the CPU of the smartphone.”

The intention Ubuntu for Android is “not to replace the core functions” such as calling, texting and storing contacts, “something which Android does very well.” But we understand that there’s also plans at some point for an Ubuntu ‘phone UX’ which will sit on top of Android a la HTC’s Sense and Samsung’s TouchWiz.

With devices like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the Padfone (which can slot into a keyboard dock) and Motorola’s Atrix phones with the Lapdocks already bridging the gaps between phone/laptop/tablet functions, Ubuntu for Android looks to be a logical next step in the mobile evolution.

In its current form, Ubuntu for Android is an early prototype. Don’t head on over to the Android Market after reading this and expect to see the app waiting for you. Canonical said that it’ll be working with hardware partners to bring it to market, so timing for availability will be largely dependent on those relationships.

So on future Motorola Atrixes and Lapdocks we could see the Webtop OS switched out in favour of Ubuntu for Android or see it ported to devices like the Transformer Prime and Padfone.

That said, we were also told that the Ubuntu phone UX is thought to be ready within an 18 to 24 month timeframe.


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