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Ubuntu Mobile Hands-Off: Stripped Down and Sleek

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The world of mobile OSes is totally dominated by Android and iOS, but that hasn't kept Ubuntu from trying to sneak in. And finding a way into already dominated markets is kind of Ubuntu's strong suit.

We got to take a "hands-off" look at the new mobile OS running on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. While the hardware won't hit for a year, the software's looking pretty smooth already.


Ubuntu's take on the mobile OS borrows a fair bit from desktop Ubuntu, as well as other mobile OSes, but it brings some new ideas to the table too. If you've ever used Ubuntu's Unity interface, you'll recognize the icon bar that slides out from the side. If you've ever used a smartphone, you'll recognize the notification bar that slides down from the top. But Ubuntu mobile takes that concept further than any of the other OSes out there.

One of the key design goals for the system was to eliminate the need for buttons. There are soft buttons on the screen, like Android, and no hard button, like Apple devices. Instead, everything—everything—slides out from the sides. The app menu slides out from the left, a slide from the right brings up previous apps, the top brings down settings, and the bottom brings up other assorted options like sharing.


Some other Ubuntu-specific quirks involve menus that require you to hold down your finger in a way that looks completely unlike anything in iOS or Android. It certainly looks weird, but it's hard to tell how it feels without some real hands-on. So far, Canonical's demos are "look but don't touch."

Ubuntu Mobile certainly appears interesting, and maybe it could shake up some of the mobile interface conventions we all take for granted. But even if it's the best OS ever, the lack of dedicated hardware until 2014 is going to make it a tough sell for a while. Hopefully it can still stand a chance. The mobile OS scene could use a little more variety.