Linux smartphones took a serious step back in 2015

After a disappointing year, where do we stand with Linux smartphones?

Linux smartphones mozilla firefox os
Sunny Ripert (CC BY-SA 2.0)

2015 was such a hopeful year for Linux on smartphones. At the beginning of the year, there was so much hope for what could be.

The promise of Ubuntu Touch being available on shipping devices was alluring. FirefoxOS phones were already shipping… and the future was looking bright. And Jolla was gearing up for a new iteration of their Linux-powered OS, along with a shiny new tablet to go with it. 

Then – at the #mozlando conference on Tuesday, December 8th – Mozilla announced that they would no longer be working with carriers to ship Firefox OS phones. Mozilla issued the following statement, via TechCrunch:

"Firefox OS proved the flexibility of the Web, scaling from low-end smartphones all the way up to HD TVs. However, we weren't able to offer the best user experience possible and so we will stop offering Firefox OS smartphones through carrier channels." 

This is definitely sad news for those looking forward to a free system for their smartphones. Myself included.

But the onslaught of bummer-inducing news doesn't end there. Jolla, the company behind Sailfish OS, is having some serious problems… including layoffs. The company is now, according to Antti Saarnio (Jolla Chairman of the Board), "fighting for its survival."

And then there's Ubuntu. Which has some shipping hardware in Europe, but has yet to ship any hardware into the North American market. But, let's be honest with ourselves, even if Ubuntu Touch was available in North America, would it matter? I know a few people with the early Ubuntu Touch devices over in Europe… and I can't think of a single one of them who actually uses it on any regular basis (most of them use Android phones of one kind or another).

So here we are, watching 2015 slowly finish up, in a state where we actually have fewer Linux-powered smartphone prospects than we did when the year began. It seems like we've lost momentum in the race to get a high-quality, Linux-based mobile platform off the ground.

Remember the crowdfunding campaign for the Ubuntu Edge? The ultimate Linux-powered mobile device. A phone that acted as a full convergence system (turning into a full Ubuntu desktop when plugged into a monitor). That campaign never reached the fundraising goal… though it did get close to $13 million pledged.

That was almost 2 ½ years ago, back in the summer of 2013.

Where will 2016 take us? Will we see Ubuntu Touch get some broader distribution and hardware support? Will Jolla survive as a company? Will some other company or organization come along and surprise us all with the Linux mobile OS of the future?

No, really. I'm asking. Does anyone know? Because I have absolutely no idea. I just hope 2016 is a bit better than 2015 for mobile Linux.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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