A buzzword someday to pave Ubports the way

  • Hello,

    I'll throw in the little idea I've thought of recently.

    More then the phone

    I mean buzzwords. It all started with a phone - but once the phones became more advanced, a few buzzwords appeared to indicate that the emerging devices became more then just a phone. I mean words like smartphone and phablet.

    They are definitely more friendly then palmtop or PDA, and currently from being just a portmanteau they entered our everyday languages.

    Even more then the smartphone: convervence

    What Canonical had tried, and Ubports is still trying to do, is to start another revolution. From typical phones, we have currently moved to the point where we perform some of the tasks, which had required us to use a computer before, on our phone. We have phones that are smart, but are not yet our computers (of course in some ways they are, but we still use the laptops to perform most of tasks while we are not on the go).

    Ubports is trying to push this further. Once convergence is funcionally finished, seamless and fully ready for everyday use also for non-power users, it will allow a number of groups of people to actually not have the computer at all - in a number of everyday tasks a convergent phone will be able to fully replace the computer.

    And that is the game changer, which, in my opinion, deserves a new buzzword: a phoneputer.

    What the heck is a phoneputer?

    I believe that a phoneputer is - as the name suggest - a device that is a phone and computer at once. A device that can be used as any of them (or better - both at the same time) In my opinion to call a device a phoneputer it needs to:

    • allow to connect a monitor, keyboad, mouse
    • allow to plug in a pendrives or other types of USB devices that can be plugged to the computers
    • allow to work in a PC mode on the external power source
    • enable to install and use apps as easy and freely as on the computer
    • allow users to organize their files, content, open and save files with different apps

    Does the OS for phoneputers already exist?

    No. However I think that combined efforts of UBports and Canonical is furthest on the way to it currently. Android is not currently an OS for phoneputers, as it is completely not optimized for desktop usage - and, what is more important - it does not allow to run any kind of desktop apps. Windows seem to have come pretty close, but the problem is definitely lack of desktop apps compiled for ARM, which could be installed on the phone and run in a Continuum mode.

    Ubuntu Touch is different here: it allows to run desktop apps in convergence mode. It is not yet as polished as it should be for a phoneputer, but the main bits are already there and it the rest is under development.

    Why I stated "combined efforts of UBports and Canonical"? Not only bacause of Canonical's effort that started it all, but mainly because of the snaps. Growing number of desktop applications is being packed as snaps. Although those apps are not convergent and they do not adapt to phone form factor, they probably will be able (and definitely should be able) to be installed on Xenial even if they are only usable with a monitor plugged in.

    So in my opinion to make Ubuntu Touch an OS for phoneputers we need to:

    • have the easily installable snaps (probably via OpenStore)
    • enabled by default, polished convergence.
    • allow application to request more free access to the home folder (possible via snap slots) - in that case we could have for example the confined package with an IDE, which we could run on a phone and freely modify the projects residing in the home folder
    • allow user management
    • provide a way to use a background services (while handing the easy control of them to user) - a phoneputer should definitely be able to run for example a constant, background Dropbox syncing (I think that the app could ask user if it can run background processes and there should be an indicator listing all apps, that currently run anything in the background and allowing to kill or suspend them)
    • provide power settings to allow easily switch on/off suspending background apps (power indicator?)

    Still a way to go. But at the same time huge chunk of work is already done!

    Does the hardware for phoneputers exist?

    Unfortunalely, no. And I don't meah the power - current multicore beats present in flagships are definitely sufficients. What is lacking? Honestly, a few really simple and doable things:

    • more then one USB port. It is a must for a phoneputer, as it needs to be able to have a monitor, keyboard and mouse plugged in and charge at the same time. An alternative is the wireless charging, but this is a limitation in my opinion. So two USB ports are a must - one to plug in the charger and the other one to plug in a dock or a hub. At least until someone creates a way to charge the phone and use the devices using the same USB port, but I don't think it is possible.
    • Given the amount of software compiled for ARM this architecture is sufficient, but still I hate the fact that Intel quit their Atom for smartphones developments a few years ago. An x86 Atom would be a perfect CPU for a phoneputer - not to mention the porting related simplifications the fact that much more code could be shared between mobile and desktop flavors of the OS.

    A perfect plan?

    Well, kind of "simple", but probably very long term: nail the convergence to make it seamless, simple and powerful, allow installing snaps and take time so that OS could mature enough. Then move to a second step: find a business partner and crowdfund a first phoneputer ever - a device like nothing before: having 2 or 3 USB ports (supporting USB displays, USB Audio, fast USB 3.1 v2 etc.), allowing to connect via USB at the same time a charger, a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. And then market and sell it as a full-fledged phoneputer to make some people never need their laptops again.

  • @mitu

    Did you read this interesting topic about "Ubuntu for mobile devices post mortem analysis" ?
    I totally agree with @sverzegnassi sentence:
    "but we can say for sure that convergence is still a secondary/tertiary feature".
    Even for a project like UBports who don't need to be profitable.

  • I've skimmed through now.

    My view is that actually convergence is the only thing that may become the selling point someday. Of course there is a number of obstacles which I also listed in my post.

    Why? Well, without convergence how does Ubuntu differ from Android or iOS?

    • It's free, open source, privacy focused. But Sailfish is too, Firefox OS was as well. None of them succeeded as well. Given the Android and iOS have so many users, unfortunately few people care about those.
    • It more tweakable and less locked. Well, hardly a good selling point as well, unless its target are developers only.
    • It has different UI, navigation patterns. Again, it depends on individual preferences. Existing Android and iOS users may be very hard to move away from OSes they are used to.

    The entirely new thing you can do with your phone

    I believe that mobile market is a very hard one and the only way to jump in and get a significant share is to find a niche where noone is present yet - and to show people that with Ubuntu Touch they can do things which they cannot do neither with Android, nor with iOS etc. I don't mean things that they cannot do this way or that good, that fast, etc. I mean a quality change - things that they cannot do at all. I see convergence and an option to ditch laptop for some people such a thing.

    Relased before it was ready

    Also please note the other reasons that are mentioned in the post you linked: convergence was marketed as it was actually done and ready, but in fact it was far from it. Unity 8's functionality is far from finished for desktops, UITK as well, many desktop apps looked bad or didn't run properly when M10 tablet went on sale. I think that was a huge mistake to try selling convergent devices without having delivered the minimum viable product in terms of convergence.


    And again, the hardware. As Miracast has failed as an alternative to HDMI and few phones provide the MHL, the convergence usability is limited with what we currently have. No to mention the problem of convergent mode with charger cable plugged in. This is why I said that we are not there yet and the correct way is to sell the convergence is to make it work flawlessly first, then create the device that allow users to use the full potential of convergence and then market it and show off the value that convergent phoneputer adds to their lives.

    Ubuntu Edge

    On the other hand - Ubuntu Edge didn't get funded, but it has actually broken croudfunding record gathering more then 12 million dollars. I believe that the goal was set extremely high (and probably needed to be in order to make it happen), but still the traction it gained hints that there might be a future for converget devices or phoneputers.

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