After second thought, this is why Ubuntu for Android will fail

I was initially quite excited to hear about Ubuntu for Android. At first glance it seemed to be the perfect meld of mobile and desktop. At least until it became clear that a) Ubuntu for Android was only available to manufactures and b) the desktop was only available when the phone was docked.

Both are quite reasonable decisions by Canonical.

At the end of the day, hobbyists were not going to make Ubuntu for Android a profitable product, so making it available to the general public was not going to be a high priority. Real dollars could only be made from the support contracts entered into by corporations looking to streamline their disparate mobile and desktop infrastructure.

And traditional desktop apps have only ever sucked on touch based devices, let alone something as small as a  phone screen. Accessing the Ubuntu desktop from the phone was going to ensure that Ubuntu for Android was a frustrating experience.

Unfortunately, both decisions have also doomed the project to failure.

The only reason why corporations are even looking at supporting a mobile infrastructure is because the majority of their employees have embraced their mobile phones as a way of life, and the discontented murmurs of  thousands of employees who can't work out why they can't get their work emails on their mobiles has become a cacophony the CTO and IT managers can't ignore.

This movement from desktop to mobile is exactly what Ubuntu for Android is counting on to make it a success, and yet it is exactly the kind of  grass roots movement it has ignored thanks to the fact that it is not available to the very hobbyists who should be leading the charge. Nothing will inspire the widespread adoption of Ubuntu for Android like an IT department full of nerds who have nothing but good things to say about their  Ubuntu for Android enabled phones.

Locking the Ubuntu desktop away until the phone is docked also ignores the practical reality of why people will want to have a desktop OS on their phones.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, it all comes down to apps. For business users this really means it all comes down to accessing your data. What good is having LibreOffice on your phone if you can't access your spreadsheets without a dock, monitor, keyboard and mouse? Under what circumstance are business users going to have access to a monitor, dock, keyboard and mouse without having access to a PC with an internet connection?

It would seem to me that there exists a very narrow set of circumstances were docking an Ubuntu for Android phone would be more convenient that simply using a phone as a glorified USB memory stick, using cloud based apps and storage, using a remote desktop, or carrying an ultrabook.

Imagine this scenario - Jimmy the Ubuntu for Android user takes a call from his boss in the airport.

Hi boss. Those sales figures are on my phone, let me dig them up. Oh, sorry, my Android spreadsheet app doesn't do macros, but thankfully I have Ubuntu for Android. Let me just find a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

5 mins later.

Ok boss, the internet kiosk guy was happy to let me disconnect one of his PCs. Let me just set up my phone.

5 mins later. Jimmy is now shouting into a docked phone.

They ordered one thousand units boss. Sorry for the mucking around.

Imagine this scenario - Jimmy the Google docs user takes a call from his boss in the airport.

Hi boss. Those sales figures are in Google docs. Let me pull them up.

10 seconds later.

They ordered one thousand units boss.

Imagine this scenario - Jimmy the ultrabook user takes a call from his boss in the airport.

Hi boss. Those sales figures are on my ultrabook. Let me boot it up.

8 seconds later.

They ordered one thousand units boss.

Being able to access your desktop only when docked provides a misplaced sense of mobility and accessibility. It will lead to more support calls, not less. It adds to the confusing distinction between mobile and desktop apps, and ultimately will only be useful to those users who are already quite IT savvy, and who can work around the lack of a dock by uploading their macro enabled spreadsheet into dropbox, syncing it to their desktop back in the office, establishing a remote desktop connection and then navigating a desktop interface on a small touch screen.

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