Did my Android tablet just become useful?

Ubuntu for Android has just been announced by Canonical, and if it is done right, it has the potential to revolutionise the mobile computing landscape.

If you have read my previous blog posts, you will know that I have no love for the tablet form factor.  Tablets provide a slightly better way to use your phone apps in a form factor that is significantly less convenient than a phone.

I've also dabbled with webtop, which tried to provide a desktop like experience with a phone, but doesn't quite get there.

But Ubuntu for Android could provide the solution that I (and I imagine many others) have been looking for.

The truth is that the argument between Android, iOS, Windows and whatever "we don't provide a way to read emails" (ok, they do now, but you get my point) rubbish OS that Blackberry puts out almost always comes down to apps.

The ability to touch, swipe and pinch is no longer a selling point. Your basic apps like email, calendar, maps and social networks are all covered adequately (Blackberry not withstanding). And it's not like one manufacturer has the monopoly on high end hardware (the hardware that drives Siri is the exception here).

No, for the end users it's all about apps. And you have to search long and hard to find apps that actually let you do useful work on the current selection of tablets.

This is exactly the problem Ubuntu for Android will solve.

While Linux on the desktop never really took off, you can quite easily configure a Linux desktop with all the apps you need to do real work. A quick web search will reveal numerous lists of high quality productivity, multimedia, web and entertainment apps available for Linux. And as an added bonus, the vast majority are also free.

So with Ubuntu for Android, the disconnect between your desktop and your mobile device disappears. You can use your existing Android apps for what they do best, which is entertainment, communication and the consumption of media, and you can use your Linux apps for everything else. You no longer need to sit at a PC or laptop to do "x", while having to pull out your phone to do "y".

However, widespread adoption of Ubuntu for Android will fail if:
  • You need to root your device to install it. Very few people will upgrade from a perfectly good phone or tablet just to get a device from a specific manufacturer that supports Ubuntu.
  • You can only run Ubuntu apps on a second monitor. That might be the ideal way to use these apps, but if the apps themselves are effectively locked until you get to a desk with a monitor, you might as well just have a desktop pc.
  • It is not released quickly, before the popular open source apps get ported to Android. This is happening right now with LibreOffice, and others will follow suit.
  • The most popular apps absolutely suck with a touch interface. We all know that apps that were built for a mouse won't work well with a touch screen, but if it is infuriatingly frustrating to even view a document in LibreOffice, then you might as well just use a laptop.
I'm hopeful that Ubuntu for Android will be available on existing devices and will provide a great Linux desktop experience when combined with a monitor, mouse and keyboard, and at least a usable Linux desktop when your are on the move.

UPDATE

I just found out through PCWorld that Ubuntu for Android will not be available on existing hardware, and does not provide the Linux desktop unless you are plugged into an external monitor.

Sigh.
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