Canonical hopes BQ's new Ubuntu Aquaris M10 tablet can help pry open difficult mobile market

Canonical is hoping its Ubuntu platform establishes more of a foothold in mobile with the launch of a new hybrid tablet. Er, make that a "fully converged device."

Canonical announced BQ's new Aquaris M10 tablet running Ubuntu.

The London-based company unveiled the new Aquaris M10 Edition tablet today, which it claims enables Ubuntu to be "the only platform able to run both a mobile and true PC experience on the same device." The Aquaris M10 is being manufactured by BQ, the Madrid-based software developer and consumer electronics vendor that has produced two Ubuntu-running smartphones. And like other hybrids, the Aquaris M10 Edition tablet is designed for both touchscreen navigation and keyboard compatibility.

It will come to market in March, but pricing has yet to be disclosed. Conanical didn't say which markets the M10 will be available in, but BQ distributes smartphones primarily in Europe.

"This isn't a phone interface stretched to desktop size -- it's the right user experience and interaction model for the given situation," Canonical's Jane Silber said. "Also, in terms of applications, we have something no other OS can provide: a single, visual framework and set of tools for applications to run on any type of Ubuntu smart device."

The M10 features a 10.0-inch multi-touch screen, is 8.2 millimeters thick and weighs 470 grams, and is powered by a 1.5 GHz MediaTek quad-core processor. The device offers "convergence features," as the company calls them, including multitasking, a single app store, and a range of desktop apps.

If the gadget attracts the attention of both developers and consumers, it might be able to help Canonical capture a slice of an elusive mobile market.

Silber acknowledged that several hybrid models are already on the market -- recent examples include the Apple iPad Pro and the Microsoft Surface -- for those who want to use a single device for both content creation and content consumption. But the M10 is different, she said, because it enables developers to create apps that automatically optimize not only to the device being used but also how that device is being used.

"The fact that it's a tablet isn't the most interesting thing about this," Silber said. Instead, she said, the compelling feature is the ability of the tablet and to provide "that common platform that adapts and is responsive to the situation you're using it in -- whether it's content consumption or content creation, you want a different experience. You want to use it in a different way."

Additionally, she said, a common platform for multiple scenarios can make it easier for IT departments to deploy and manage devices and the apps that run on them.

Silber also observed that computing in general is transitioning into an era when the emergence of the cloud minimizes the differences that exist between hardware platforms. Categories such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops "don't really make sense anymore," she opined. "I think that's all a sign of the shifting sands and a blurring of the lines between these form factors."

Ubuntu claims 40 million desktop users, but it clearly needs a lift in a mobile market where Android and iOS continue to dominate worldwide. Canonical has long hoped to expand to mobile but the first phones running Ubuntu came to market in Europe and China only last year, and the company has opted not to market them aggressively. Instead, Canonical hopes Ubuntu gains traction among mobile developers before expanding to mainstream users.

Of course, no mobile operating system has emerged as a challenger to the two dominant players. Mozilla became the latest to surrender this week when it wouldn't support its Firefox OS beyond May.

The company's mobile hopes may have received a big boost last month, though, when AT&T (NYSE: T) said it will use Ubuntu OS in enterprise, cloud and networking applications across its businesses. The move almost certainly won't have any immediate impact for Ubuntu Mobile among consumers, but it might eventually lead to a huge distribution opportunity.

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