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Ubuntu phone will mix native, Web apps

Is the world ready for another Linux phone? Canonical shows off a version of Ubuntu on smartphones at CES 2013.

LAS VEGAS--Ubuntu is one of the better known flavors of desktop Linux, but its successes pale in comparison to a mobile version of Linux known as Android. At CES 2013, Ubuntu maker Canonical showed off a pre-release version of the operating system running on high-end Android hardware.

Canonical isn't promising a mere revision of Linux for phones. Its pitch involves a full computing ecosystem, encompassing the desktop version of Ubuntu, the smartphone and a desktop dock for it, and a thin client.

The company said in a press release that it expects to sell Ubuntu phones on a mix of high-end and low-end phones, with specs as low as 512MB of RAM and a dual-core Cortex A9 running at 1GHz. The phones are expected to be available in late 2013 at the earliest, but Canonical has yet to reveal which networks it has partnered with or which companies will be making the hardware.

Canonical is also making substantial changes to the interface from Android. Some aspects remain the same, such as system status icons like battery life, connection, and volume on the right side of the notification bar. Canonical would not let us actually hold the phone at the time of writing, but we did get a guided tour by their representative.

App icons are larger, and like Windows 8, the Ubuntu phones take advantage of the edges of the screen and allow thumb gestures to access content and activate app switching.

I didn't see the browser in use because of shoddy Wi-Fi at the CES event debuting the phone, but it apparently will ship with both Chromium and Firefox browsers. The hardware being developed for the Ubuntu phones will forgo a home button as well, said Canonical.

Under the hood, the phone will run both Linux native apps written in QML and Web apps written in HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. Canonical says that it's already reaching out to its developer community to get them interested in making apps for the phone.