Commercial smartphones running the mobile version of the Ubuntu Linux distro probably won't be available through carriers until 2015 at the earliest, a Canonical spokesman has revealed.
When Canonical CEO Jane Silber first announced plans to port Ubuntu to phones last year, she said the goal was to ship the first handsets with the OS preloaded by the end of 2013.
That didn't happen, and from the sound of it, Ubuntu fans probably shouldn't hold their breath for a dedicated Ubuntu phone this year, either. Even if one does appear, it will likely be a limited-run device targeting niche use cases.
"Longer-term we would love to see the major OEM/Carriers shipping Ubuntu handsets," Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon wrote in a recent Reddit AMA session. "This is a long road though with many components, and I would be surprised if we see anything like this before 2015."
Bacon said he expects the first Ubuntu handsets will be built by smaller OEMs who serve smaller regions, and that if these sell well, larger OEMs and carriers may follow suit.
But don't expect Canonical to kick-start the process by developing its own Ubuntu handset. After the failure of last year's attempt to crowd-fund the Ubuntu Edge, a high-end hybrid device that would have functioned as both a phone and a PC, any further such plans have been effectively shelved.
"I am supportive of this," Bacon wrote. "I think it would tie Canonical up in knots delivering a very specific device rather than focusing our efforts on making Ubuntu work well for other OEMs who can ship it."
This means that for the foreseeable future, the only way to run Ubuntu on your phone will be to use Canonical's installer to install it onto one of the handful of supported Android devices – namely, Google's Nexus-branded kit.
There's yet another catch here, though. In a post to the Ubuntu Phone mailing list on Monday, Canonical developer Alexander Sack said that the Ubuntu Engineering team planned to discontinue development on several of the current Nexus devices and that it would not port the OS to the latest, the Nexus 5.
"We decided against moving to the latest Nexus phone, because the switching costs were simply too high taking our current engineering goals/agenda/needs for [Ubuntu] 14.04 into account," Sack wrote.
The Galaxy Nexus, the original Nexus 7, and the Nexus 10 are also being retired as engineering platforms, he said, which will leave the Nexus 4 and the 2013 version of the Nexus 7 as the only mobile devices for which Ubuntu is being actively developed – provided, of course, no one steps in to take over the other ports.
None of this sounds particularly promising for Ubuntu's chances of finding its way into many users' pockets soon. By comparison, the Mozilla Foundation, which announced its web standards–based Firefox OS for smartphones around the same time that Canonical first started murmuring about mobile, has already managed to launch Firefox OS phones from multiple manufacturers in several global markets via divisions of Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica.
Mobile Ubuntu's apparent struggles haven't dimmed Bacon's enthusiasm for the project, however. "I would not want to suggest that any given year is the year of the Linux desktop (who would? :-)), but I think 2014 is going to be a defining year for Ubuntu and our convergence strategy," he wrote. As for what that means, exactly, the rest of us will just have to wait and see. ®