Hinging on the fact that the iPad can and has successfully replaced home computers for many Americans, Steve Jobs claimed we have entered the post-PC era at the iPad 2 announcement. With iCloud syncing users' data across all of their devices, the PC is no longer the staple in the way we work and compute, but only a piece of a much larger and ever-changing puzzle.
While he had a point in many respects (I only use my computer for a fraction of the things I used to), most people will find that tablets and smartphones simply can't do everything a computer can ... yet. With every update, though, they are becoming more and more functional. Pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, prop a tablet up and you have yourself a nice little mobile office. But they miss in some very important areas. For me, mobile browsers will not allow me to work from our back-end editor. It's buggy and illogically slow. But the potential is definitely there, and with a couple more updates and with the integration of Chrome for Android into the stock Android experience, working solely from a tablet – from the Android OS – could be a reality.
But plain and simple, it's quite impossible to rely on a tablet to handle all of the muscle work of your computer. It's perfect for handling the lightweight tasks and keeping tabs on email while you're out of the office or catching up on new from your couch. However, the real work – for most, anyway – will need to be left to a device with a full-fledged operating system.
What if you could have the benefits of both a mobile and full OS in a single device?
Many of you called me crazy when I said that the smartphone will one day be the center of all of your computing. I said that while mobile, it will play the same role it has for many years now. But when you're at home, you would dock it and use it as a computer. And, eventually, it may be the brains of your home entertainment system. It may even be that for some of you today.
Let's take a step back, though. Not long after I said this, we saw several different attempts – smartphones that docked in tablets and one that actually docked into a netbook and doubled as the touchpad. Novel attempts, no doubt. But not quite what I had in mind.
Canonical has done it again with Ubuntu for Android.
For some time now and on many different devices, it has been possible to totally replace Android with a full version of Linux, usually Ubuntu. But when removing Android, you lose many of the phone-specific functions. And Ubuntu is awfully clunky to use from just a phone or even a tablet. With Ubuntu for Android, however, you make very few sacrifices and come out with all of the advantages of both.
Ubuntu for Android is not just an application for Android, as Jane Silber, Canonical CEO, explains. It's a way to have the full Android experience when mobile and full Ubuntu experience when the phone is docked. In other words, it's a dual-OS setup, much like what we heard rumored as a possibility for some Windows 8 tablets just last week. No rebooting is required to switch between the operating systems; they run simultaneously, side by side. And best of all, your file system is shared, meaning you can view your pictures, videos and other files from both Android and Ubuntu. And you can run your Android applications from the Ubuntu desktop. It's honestly about as integrated as I could have ever imagined.
Silber did mention there would be a version for businesses, TVs and tablets.
By today's standards, the hardware requirements are relatively low. The minimum requirements are as follows: dual-core 1GHz CPU, video acceleration (shared kernel driver with associated X driver; Open GL, ES/EGL), 2GB storage for OS disk image, HDMI video out with secondary frame buffer device, USB host mode and 512 MB RAM. All of this relies on OEMs to be on board, though. Silber explains that they are "ready to go" with Ubuntu for Android and that they plan to distribute it to partner manufacturers to preload it on phones – for free, of course. There was no estimated launch date given.
Being a long-time Linux fan and user of Ubuntu for many years, I seriously cannot wait to try this out on my Nexus. But what would be even better is if it would work with a Transformer Prime and its keyboard dock. It's a long shot, but I'm almost certain some developer will be thinking the same thing and want the ability to use Android and Ubuntu from the tablet/netbook hybrid. The problem is, Ubuntu for Android appears (and is said) to be activated when the device is "docked" -- much like what Motorola has done with their lapdocks, which essentially activates an external monitor. With the Transformer Prime, though, the dock obviously isn't an external monitor. So I'm wondering whether simply plugging in a keyboard could activate Ubuntu, and if so, would there be a way to switch back and forth between the two platforms without removing the tablet from the dock.
It's making me weak at the knees with all of the possibilities, and I don't think I've been this excited of anything in a long time. Lucky for us, we'll get to see some demonstrations next week at Mobile World Congress. Hopefully we'll get more news and answers then.
What say you, Android tablet and phone users? Do you like the idea of Ubuntu for Android? Do you imagine you could replace your home PC with this setup? Personally, I wouldn't hesitate to jump. But Ubuntu clearly isn't for everyone.