Ubuntu Phone Is Not Dead!

We used this shot to convey “Ubuntu touch” and “issues”
I never said Ubuntu Phone is dead.

But from the way a handful of people in the Ubuntu community have reacted to our recent article, which relays word from a Canonical engineer that Ubuntu Phone is, for all intents, falling down the priority list for a while, you’d guess I not only said it was dead, but killed it, buried it, and then did something unmentionable on its grave!

“Cr*p reporting!“, “misinformation“, “clickbait“, “incorrect news article” — a handful of the missives directed at me (and this site) since our article ‘Ubuntu Phone on Pause? No new devices, or major updates, planned‘ went live last week.

Now, those of you who “know” me via Twitter or Google+ or from back when I used to pop up in the Ubuntu on Air shows, know that I’m a rather mild-mannered Brit, and someone who avoids controversy. (I managed to go through the whole of the UK EU referendum campaign without mentioning my position for fear of being jumped on by either side).

So to say this weekend has been a little emotionally testing is, quite frankly, putting it mildly. It’s not nice seeing people who’ve hitherto been good eggs and supportive of this site ripping me to shreds for an article they think I’ve written, rather than the one I actually have, is upsetting.

I never said Ubuntu Phone is dead.

Pat McGowan, whose mailing list post I liberally quote in the article, never said Ubuntu Phone is dead.

No-one involved in the project has said Ubuntu Phone is dead.

‘the vast majority of people who read the article understood what it said’
It can’t be dead while there are handsets out there being used, while there are app developers issuing app updates, while groups like Uports work on images for other devices, and while there is Ubuntu.

It seems to be the more enthusiastic supporters of Ubuntu Touch who’ve been riled up by my article,  oblivious to the fact that the subtile to the article reads: “Ubuntu Phone is dead, long live Ubuntu Phone” (this is a play on a very well known saying).

The “good news” for me is that the vast majority of people who read the article understood what it said. And the main gist is: resources and attention are being shifted from working on (let’s call it phase one) Ubuntu Phones and is now being placed on making Ubuntu super Snappy, a move which will, in time, serve as a base for new Ubuntu Phones.

Ubuntu Phone Is Dead: Paragraph by Paragraph
To give you my “side” of what I meant in the ways I worded thing I figured I might as well go through the post section-by-section and offer a commentary about what I meant.

The post opens with:

“If you were hoping to see a new Ubuntu phone released sometime soon, we’ve some bad news for you. 

And if you already own an Ubuntu phone and were hoping to see a new update released soon, we’ve some bad news for you too.”

These statements are literally correct because there are no new Ubuntu phones coming soon, and there are no major OTA updates for existing Ubuntu devices coming soon.

“Bad news for everybody, it seems — or is there some silver lining in the grey clouds currently cast over the project?”

A nice tease in to the first headed section suggesting. It’s a loaded question because yes, there is a silver lining to the (admittedly disappointing) “news”.

“Canonical say we won’t see new Ubuntu phone models released until a Snap-based version of Ubuntu to use on them is ready, and that transition, though in progress, will take time. 

Furthermore, Canonical’s Pat McGowan also says rumours that the next over-the-air update due for the Ubuntu phones, OTA-15, will not happen are ‘mostly correct’, and notes that there are currently ‘no plans to land any features to the current stable PPA‘.”

Both of these paragraphs either directly quote or indirectly quote Canonical’s Pat McGowan. They’re also well hedged (like the opening paras) with words like “currently“,  “transition“, “until“, etc.

“What few Ubuntu Touch developers there are can, for now, continue to update and upload .Click apps to the Ubuntu store. McGowan cautions that: ‘at some point we will no longer accept new clicks, and then at some further point (all tbd) the store will only serve snaps.’”

These two sentences say the same thing, first in my words, and then in Pats, whose quote qualifies our use of ‘for now’.

The heading of the next section is to aid skim readers. it says “Security Updates Coming”. I think that would imply to most people that the phone is not dead.

“It’s not a total cessation of support, though. Security updates to the native Ubuntu web-browser app (and the Oxide framework) will be released as and when they’re available.”

What? I’ve written that the phone is not dead? Crikey…

“But big new shiny features, capabilities or other mobile-specific improvements are unlikely to come anytime soon, and for the earliest Ubuntu Phones, possibly never.”

Once again with the “soon” to caution this isn’t a finite pause; and then the first small tease that early devices may (as many Canonical employees have intimated in the past) may be left out of the new images.

Next big heading is the pun “Snap to the future”. This is meant to that snaps are now the focus.

“The big “hold up” on progress right now is the transition to Snappy and enabling full support for Snap apps on the Ubuntu desktop. Snaps rely on features only found in more recent versions of the Linux kernel than that being used on (most of) the currently Ubuntu Phones and tablets.

Again, technically correct based on previous Ubuntu on Air broadcasts, IRC chats, and Telegram group posting from Canonical employees.

“And because Ubuntu is built on top a (pared back) Android kernel (which is what contains all the relevant hardware drivers and modules that chipset vendors don’t distribute source code to) it’s not as easy as apt-get‘ing a new one; the phone has to also have a more recent version of Android available for it.;

In short, it’s going to take a stack of engineering effort to bring the new Snappy future to this devices …but the appetite to do it may not be there.”

The hint about the “appetite” there to do it is somewhat speculation on our part (albeit informed speculation) based on an off the record chat with Canonical engineers about the effort:reward of supporting old devices.

Next follows a blurb recapping the development priorities for the next few cycles (i.e. Desktop features for Unity 8) and, again, quotes Pat to back this up, who says “While we transition to Snap [desktop features are] the other major area of focus.”

Developers are encouraged to get building Snaps for Ubuntu desktop, and kicking the tyres on the Unity 8 preview session available in Ubuntu 16.10.

Once again we put the emphasis on Snappy — something you’ll have noticed Canonical has been doing a lot over the past 6 months.

Final header reads: “It’s Not All Bad News…” and ledes into:

“Although owners of the early Ubuntu phones may be disappointed to hear that their phone, for which they so invested in early to show support, may not end up being part of Ubuntu’s Snap-ified future, they’ll still have had 2 years of support from Canonical — and that’s roughly the same support period that Google supports Android on Nexus devices for.”

News about the old Ubuntu phones being unlikely to get Ubuntu 16.04 + Snaps is well known in community circles, but is likely to be ‘news’ to those not involved.

The ranting folks seem to have conflated the ‘news’ that some existing commercial Ubuntu Phones are unlikely to get updated to this shiny new Ubuntu 16.04 + Snaps base with the status of the project as a whole.

We end on a positive, noting that a reference device for the M10 tablet is in development and that works elsewhere (all roads lead to convergence) are ongoing:

“There is some good news. It looks as though the Bq M10 Ubuntu tablet may get a shiny new ‘reference image’ built on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS with Snaps — hurrah!

But it does means it’s unlikely we’ll see major mobile-specific enhancements made to Unity 8 on others device until the desktop reaches parity with Unity 7.

The circuitous route to convergence continues apace!”

Phew!

So that’s what I actually wrote.

I didn’t say Ubuntu Phone is dead. Pat didn’t say Ubuntu Phone is dead. It’s not my place to say whether the temporary switch in priority is a sincere or, as with Ubuntu TV, one that may see Canonical quietly move on from it.

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