Canonical’s Ubuntu Phones Now On Sale Globally

Mobile market latecomer Canonical claims “latent demand” for its tardy but alternative smartphone OS has encouraged its OEM partner, BQ, to open up availability of its handsets to buyers anywhere in the world, not just in Europe.

The first Ubuntu-based smartphone launched in Europe this February, and was followed by a second handset in June — also limited to European buyers.

The two Ubuntu phones — aka: the Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition and the slightly larger Aquaris E5 HD Ubuntu Edition — which are both manufactured by Spain’s BQ, are now are available to buyers globally, via BQ’s store, retailing for €169.90 ($189) and €199.90 ($220) respectively.

Despite Canonical’s claims of growing global “appetite” for its open source mobile alternative, it’s not releasing any sales data for the devices, so judge those claims accordingly.

Although buyers anywhere can now order an Ubuntu phone, Canonical also warns that handset and OS functionality may be limited in some countries, including the U.S. — noting in a blog post:

We know (and BQ has acknowledged) that network frequency, and mobile operator, compatibility in some countries, such as the US, will limit some of the handset and OS functionality that European users are presently enjoying.

So caveat emptor. But given it’s not a mainstream mobile OS that was already the case.

We got hands on with the first batch of Ubuntu phones earlier this year. While the hardware is nothing special, the software certainly takes a different tack vs the dominant icon-focused approaches of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, with a ‘buttonless’ gesture-based interface which uses themed cards (Scopes) to aggregate and surface content.

These cards can be contextual, such as a ‘Today’ card which aggregates info such as local weather and calendar info, or a ‘Nearby’ card to surface location-specific local services. Users can also customize the types of info and sources of data they wish to see in particular Scopes to further personalize the experience. It’s certainly different but also has a challenging learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to navigate around the interface.

Obviously, as with any alternative OS, the number of native apps available for the platform is extremely limited vs the iOS-Android duopoly. And that makes Canonical’s task of generating interest in mobile Ubuntu a challenge — at least outside its core user-base of open source and alt tech enthusiasts. Opening up sales to buyers globally removes one small barrier at least.