On the Ubuntu Phone and the Challenges of Mobile Operating Systems

Establishing a new mobile platform in a mature ecosystem is a challenge — a challenge that goes deeper than the mobile industry’s de-facto metric of “does it have the apps”. Going deeper is captured by two simple questions — apply these to the new mobile operating system contenders, and it quickly gets ugly:

Is the platform uniquely compelling for users? (why would they buy a phone with it)

Is the platform relevant to developers from day one, when you have few users? (why would they develop before volume)

These two questions have driven the design and development of the Ubuntu Phone from the very beginning. It was immediately clear that launching a truly open replica of the app and app icon grid centric experiences of iOS and Android wasn't going to cut it — general users would see little added value, and without user volume, developers wouldn't target the platform. An irrecoverable chicken and egg problem. A problem that could only be aggravated by succumbing to the popular suggestion of “why don’t you just support Android apps” — the perfect way to ensure developers will never need to target your platform, and for users to get a me too experience developed for someone else.

The Ubuntu Phone takes a bold approach across the board:

A compelling experience for users — who get to interact with their mobile digital life in a much more natural, personal, secure and engaging way. Plus, it’s so pretty…

Developer relevancy from day one — with the unprecedented opportunity to make their mobile experiences integral to the OS, at a fraction of the cost that it would take to develop traditional apps (which are also supported). This means that a Whatsapp, WeChat, Slack or Telegram could become as integral to Ubuntu as iMessage is on iOS while still maintaining a branded experience, by little more than opening an API. With Ubuntu’s success suddenly aligning with developer aspirations and business models, waiting for volume no longer makes sense.

An ecosystem strategy for those companies with the courage and ambition of taking on the dominance of Google and Apple — with a way to own the store, the relationship with their users and more importantly — the ability to create a differentiating experience for their devices based on their own suite of content and services. All backed by a thriving developer community.

A form factor evolution — the promised land of a phone powerful enough to also be your PC is coming. And form factor evolutions have always had a disrupting impact in the tech space.

While still in its early days, the Ubuntu Phone has the foundations for a successful run. I’ll be watching closely, as I take on a new adventure.

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