Meizu, bq to sell Ubuntu phones in 2014, platform a 'credible alternative' to Android

Chinese electronics company Meizu and Spanish phone maker bq said they will sell smartphones running Canonical's Ubuntu operating system this year. Further, overseas wireless carriers Portugal Telecom, Three, Telecom Italia, Smart and Smartfren (Indonesia) voiced their support for the platform.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu, said the company will release additional details on the devices and its smartphone and tablet strategy at next week's Mobile World Congress trade show. Though he didn't disclose any details on the planned Ubuntu phones from Meizu and bq, including pricing and functionality, he hinted that the bq phone would sport dual-SIM capabilities and that the Meizu phone would be based on one of the Chinese manufacturers existing phones, tweaked to run Ubuntu.

Shuttleworth also declined to say which carriers would support the forthcoming phones. In Ubuntu's press release announcing the news, Portugal Telecom, Three, Telecom Italia, Smart and Smartfren (Indonesia) offered quotes in support of Ubuntu but stopped short of disclosing possible launch plans. To date, Ubuntu's Carrier Advisory Group has 16 members including Vodafone, EE, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), Deutsche Telekom and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ).

Shuttleworth said Ubuntu will make licensing revenues from each Ubuntu device that Meizu and bq sell, though he declined to provide specifics, and he also said the company will take a percentage of the revenue from app sales through its forthcoming smartphone app store.

Interestingly, Shuttleworth boldly proclaimed that Ubuntu is well positioned to grow into the world's third largest smartphone operating system, behind Google's Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. Currently, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone is battling BlackBerry's (NASDAQ:BBRY) platform for the No. 3 position, and competitors including Mozilla's Firefox, Jolla's Sailfish and the Tizen platform are hoping to grab a piece of the market.

Yet Shuttleworth argued that Ubuntu will capitalize on the convergence trend--he said users will increasingly conduct all their computing and communications through one device, and will simply shift to different screens throughout their day. He pointed to Project Ara--a modular phone concept announced by Google that will stay with the company as it sells its Motorola business to Lenovo--as evidence of this trends. Shuttleworth said the smartphone version of Ubuntu contains 95 percent of the same code as Ubuntu for the desktop, and in the future the two will be 100 percent the same.

"We seek to be the open alternative to Android," Shuttleworth said, explaining that although Google licenses Android for free, Google retains a significant amount of control in the Android devices that carry its Internet services. "We don't see BlackBerry and Windows as very competitive."

Canonical, which makes the Linux-based computer operating system called Ubuntu, announced in January of 2013 it would release versions of Ubuntu for low- and high-end smartphones. Shortly thereafter, the company promised Ubuntu phones would hit the market by October of 2013, though that did not happen. Last year Canonical attempted to crowdsource the development of its first Ubuntu smartphone, the Edge, through a fundraising program on Indiegogo. But the company raised less than half of the $32 million it said it needed to begin production on the phone.

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