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Software Developer Explains Why The Ubuntu Phone Failed (itwire.com) 137

troublemaker_23 quotes ITWire: A developer who worked with the Ubuntu Phone project has outlined the reasons for its failure, painting a picture of confusion, poor communication and lack of technical and marketing foresight. Simon Raffeiner stopped working with the project in mid-2016, about 10 months before Canonical owner Mark Shuttleworth announced that development of the phone and the tablet were being stopped.
Raffeiner says, for example, that "despite so many bugs being present, developers were not concentrating on fixing them, but rather on adding support for more devices." But he says he doesn't regret the time he spent on the project -- though now he spends his free time "traveling the world, taking photographs and creating bad card games, bad comics and bad games."

"Please note that this post does not apply to the UBPorts project, which continues to work on the phone operating system, Unity 8 and other components."
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Software Developer Explains Why The Ubuntu Phone Failed

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  • It's easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25, 2017 @09:36AM (#54686407)

    The Ubuntu phone failed because it's a fucking stupid idea. People want smartphones with a large base of popular apps.

    • They weren't helped by the fact that existing players in the market would not allow ports of their apps.

      • That is what's commonly known as passing the buck.
      • Re:It's easy (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday June 25, 2017 @10:37AM (#54686615)

        existing players in the market would not allow ports of their apps.

        An obvious solution would be to use the Android ABI, so no port would be needed. Barring that, they were doomed from the start. If a behemoth like Microsoft couldn't break the Apple/Android duopoly, then Canonical never had a chance.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by thegarbz ( 1787294 )

          If a behemoth like Microsoft couldn't break the Apple/Android duopoly, then Canonical never had a chance.

          Just to be clear this solution is not something that simply needs money at it, and Microsoft's failure was not resources. In every case the failure was just shit products.

          Remember when blackberry owned 100% of the smartphone market? No one would ever topple them especially not a phone with no buttons.
          Remember when Apple ate their lunch and then was the only smartphone player in town with a product worth owning? That Android thing is just a toy in comparison and one with no apps or developers.
          Remember how An

          • Re:It's easy (Score:5, Insightful)

            by exomondo ( 1725132 ) on Sunday June 25, 2017 @05:47PM (#54688425)

            Windows Phone wasn't really a "shit product", in fact none of the real competitors to the smartphone market were. They were just late entrants to an established market that offered no compelling feature/innovation.

            Like you say, Apple upended the Blackberry/Windows Mobile duopoly with compelling innovation, Android then made that new paradigm accessible to everybody. The same is true of the desktop, Linux on the desktop is by no means a "shit product" but its usage share is low because it doesn't have that one thing that users say "yes, I will abandon my current computer and learn a new way of doing things because this feature makes my desktop computing so much better", that is what happened with cell phones when iOS/Android were introduced.

          • Re:It's easy (Score:5, Informative)

            by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday June 26, 2017 @06:01AM (#54690343) Journal

            Remember when blackberry owned 100% of the smartphone market?

            Nope, I remember Nokia owning 76% of the smartphone market and Blackberry having most of the high-end corporate segment.

            • Nokia? Smartphone? The?

              Nokias were _feature_ phones so blackberry kinda did have 100% of the smartphone market IIRC.

              • The definition of a smartphone vs a featurephone is usually that a smartphone can run third-party apps. Most of the Nokia phones had this capability (my N70 and N80 both did, for example), and could run C++ or Java apps. Unless you want to redefine smartphone to mean 'is a Blackberry', in which case RIM had 100% of the smartphone market.
            • Nokia did and did not have a big share of the smartphone market. On the one hand, Symbian (Nokia's smartphone OS) allowed the installation of apps. On the other hand, there weren't all that many apps available, and many users either installed no apps at all or stopped at one or two. So there was a large base of theoretical smartphones but few that were actually being used in a way that we recognize as smartphone usage; most were effectively feature phones despite the presence of smart features in the OS.

              Sym

      • by Desler ( 1608317 )

        And what incentive did they have to care about Ubuntu Phones? It had less marketshare than BB10 and Windows.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Both apple and Android started somewhere.

      Big difference is both of them focus on UX. You can't just make a program, it needs to be something people want to use. If this was, then the power of open source could have helped it. Instead, people didn't want to use it because the experience sucked, so it died early.

    • by allo ( 1728082 )

      You never have this from the start. But somehow you need to start. Ubuntu Phone had its chance, because there is a lot of user base, which wishes android was more open (not from the source licence, but from the development process and restrictions like locked bootloaders).
      Okay, a lot not like "a lot of iphone users", but like "Hey, we're not selling sour beer there are many people who really like our idea right from the start"

      • there is a lot of user base, which wishes android was more open (not from the source licence, but from the development process and restrictions like locked bootloaders

        How many of these are unhappy with LineageOS? I use it, with a stripped-down version of Google Apps that installs the Play store (for the two apps that I actually use from there) and nothing else. Almost all of the apps I use come from F-Droid. Why would I prefer an Ubuntu phone over this?

        • by allo ( 1728082 )

          The play store is the bad part of the gapps. It brings google play services, which are always active in the background, access your location if you haven't turned off location completely, can install packages without your consent and much more.

    • It does feel like that old thing of a solution looking for a problem. We want our phones to do certain things. They do so already. Ubuntu can do the same, but not as well.
    • The Ubuntu phone failed because it's a fucking stupid idea. People want smartphones with a large base of popular apps.

      The other way to succeed is to have some really killer feature, something that is hugely innovative and disruptive. Many users can do what they need with a few basic applications and a web browser so if some competitor came along with a feature that was really compelling to people then they may have a chance. Ubuntu Phone (and Windows Phone, webOS, Maemo, Meego, etc) didn't offer that, they weren't necessarily bad operating systems, they were just more of the same.

      • Yes, I know I'm in the minority but as I've said in previous discussions, Continuum/Convergence would be that killer feature, provided they solve the "app gap".

        A 64bit machine with a octo-core processor and 6GB of RAM, as found in flagship phones of today is plenty powerful enough for my needs as a consumer. (if not a monster workstation for professional purposes). Hook that up to a KVM switch and we're set, so at which point I ask myself why would I need a x86-powered desktop machine with worse specs at ho

    • by nnull ( 1148259 )

      It wasn't exactly a stupid idea. It sold beyond their expectations. The lack of production models to sell to customers pretty much killed them. You went to the web store and you literally couldn't buy one. There was quite a lot of enthusiastic people that wanted one but couldn't get one.

      It was definitely a nice replacement for Android and IOS. If they bothered to get it onto the Meizu 6 (Which everyone was waiting for), it would have been fine. It's too bad now we won't ever see it again, which sucks, beca

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Nope. Quite simply Google was far better at marketing and good provided supplier pressure on manufacturers, enough to dominate the market with Apple, who are again extremely skilled marketers to come second. Why did Canonical fail, why did M$ fail, simply they could not stand up against Google and most important they failed to breach the upgrade market. Sick of Android on your phone, buy this USB stick, plug it into your phone and turn it into an Ubuntu phone (they should have focused on the cross grade mar

  • Want the list? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Voyager529 ( 1363959 ) <voyager529 AT yahoo DOT com> on Sunday June 25, 2017 @09:45AM (#54686437)

    1. Not solid through US carriers.
    2. Focus on low cost hardware; no "flagship phone".
    3. Primary benefits were ideological; no new features or distinction over incumbents.
    4. No integration with a movies/music/tv ecosystem.
    5. Practically no existing market to leverage.
    6. Dependency on browser over App Store model.
    7. No focus on a migration path. ...so yeah, there were seemingly no advantages and lots of disadvantages to moving.

    • Regarding #3 - Why does *EVERY* new phone need to have new features? I would be perfectly happy with a cell phone ecosystem that doesn't constantly change all the time. Two year lifetime of a cell phone doesn't seem to be enough.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        They already have a cell phone for people like you. It's called John's Phone.

        http://www.johnsphones.com/store/johns-phone-bar/item46

        • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

          They already have a cell phone for people like you. It's called John's Phone.

          http://www.johnsphones.com/store/johns-phone-bar/item46

          I want one just for the sake of having it!

      • by murdocj ( 543661 )

        I'm confused... my Android phone was a somehow old model when I bought it over a year ago, and I expect to have it for a couple of more years. If I don't screw around with it I don't expect it to degrade. Why would it be limited to a 2 year lifespan?

        • Yep. My phone is now 3 years old and going strong. I see nothing existing now or coming in the foreseeable future that makes it "obsolete" to me.

      • Regarding #3 - Why does *EVERY* new phone need to have new features? I would be perfectly happy with a cell phone ecosystem that doesn't constantly change all the time. Two year lifetime of a cell phone doesn't seem to be enough.

        You missed the point entirely.

        I agree that the continual rearrangement of furniture in the Android market isn't exactly a 'feature'. However, the point was that the Ubuntu phone needed a differentiator other than "open source OS" to differentiate it from iOS and Android, if it was going to give people who already own a smartphone a reason to switch. "It's cheaper" wouldn't be it, because cost-sensitive customers can already get sub-$100 Android phones already, either through low end units from the carrier,

    • Look at the summary, it's biased already. "Developers were not concentrating on fixing them", with regards to bugs. Developers work on what they're told to work on. There's a management failure here of not setting the right priorities and not putting in gatekeepers to make sure they're being paid attention to. I don't know of any developer that gets the chance to ignore the stated priorities and instead spend the day working on more fun stuff without getting laid off when the company finds out.

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        "Developers were not concentrating on fixing them", with regards to bugs.

        You say tomahto, I say tomayto. You see inaccurate attribution, I see accurate observation.

        Relationships where observations can't be stated before taking on the burden of sorting out attribution are all but guaranteed to make the kitchen fridge cringe.

        If you can't separate the two, you can't agree to agree on the problem while agreeing to disagree on the solution, for the time being. Since "the" solution almost certainly involves pers

    • by u801e ( 1647927 )

      1. Not solid through US carriers.

      Why would that have to even be a requirement? People can buy other types of computing devices online and start using them. An unlocked GSM phone could work the same way. Order online, install the SIM, and start using it. The fact that people want to get phones through their carriers is the major reason why the cell phone market in the US was so far behind the rest of the world in terms of device features and capabilities until the iphone came along.

      • The fact that people want to get phones through their carriers is the major reason why the cell phone market in the US was so far behind the rest of the world

        Well, it's a major reason, yes. I agree. And I am constantly surprised by the number of people who don't even realize that it's possible (and easy) to buy a phone from someone other than their carrier.

        People are also fooled by the apparent economics of it. The contracts are arranged so as to make you think you're getting your phone super cheap through your carrier, when you're really overpaying fairly significantly. I understand if you can't come up with the full purchase price of the phone, I suppose, but

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Linux was a successful exception to this type of effort for ONE reason: it was drop-in compatible with its competition. Linux was user-installable on commodity PCs that people already owned -and- it ran Unix, a popular OS that already had applications and a technical user base that was used to making tweaks to enable their apps to run on various Unix flavors. Linux was just another flavor.

    -nomsh

  • by ISoldat53 ( 977164 ) on Sunday June 25, 2017 @10:27AM (#54686581)
    It can always serve as a bad example.
  • "despite so many bugs being present, developers were not concentrating on fixing them, but rather on adding support for more devices."

    That's not why it failed. It failed because there was next to no demand.

    • That's not why it failed. It failed because there was next to no demand.

      Well, duh. That's why every new product failure fails: nobody buys it. The question is: why didn't anybody buy it?

      • I'm sorry, let me spell it out: there was no demand for this kind of product. That is, people didn't buy it because it was a bad product, people didn't buy it because it was the wrong product.

  • Who cares about a bug free system, when there is only one crappy phone, where it works? Of course, the bugs should not be too extreme, but still adding hardware support has a priority as well. And bugfree systems are rare. Have a look at the mozilla bugtracker. And there are many serious problems, ten year old platform bugs and so on. But firefox mostly works and that's the important part. Abitious projects do not have the ressources to do everything perfect. And there are always more new bugs than fixed on

  • "despite so many bugs being present, developers were not concentrating on fixing them, but rather on adding support for more devices."

    This could be a generic description for Linux in general. It is hard to get people who volunteer their time to do work (or is it really play?) on things they don't want to.

    Writing new stuff is fun. People will do that. Fixing bugs is hard work. It requires effort and thought and understanding. You can't persuade people to give up their time to do that, it's not fun.

  • ... you couldn't run the programs on it you expected from the platform. It could have easily attracted a market of more professional users if it wouldn't have tried to copy iOS and Android.

    There is a market for something like the communicator with modern hardware. Essentially a device which on the outside is a regular phone, and once you fold it up becomes a portable computer, complete with keyboard.

    The market for portable devices with an app-store is already full. However for some reason both Canonical and

    • It could have easily attracted a market of more professional users if it wouldn't have tried to copy iOS and Android.

      Which was basically RIM's idea to stay relevant with the Blackberry. Provide professional-level services (whatever they are) and sell to businesses. Microsoft couldn't have won that way either.

  • Another problem with Ubuntu's phone OS: its UI bought into the militantly-fashionable idea of eliminating all physical buttons & reducing the phone to a touchscreen for literally everything UI-related. From what I recall (circa summer 2013, at least), it didn't just ignore things like volume buttons for the OS's UI... it didn't even have an API for thirdparty APPS to read their state or react to button-state changes. It was insane.

    It's the same reason why Android & IOS (and Windows Mobile & Palm

    • Another problem with Ubuntu's phone OS: its UI bought into the militantly-fashionable idea of eliminating all physical buttons

      Is it fashion? I always thought it was cost-cutting.

      The effect's the same though. It's like an input method version of Gresham's law - a touchscreen will always drive out other devices.

    • This. I want more buttons not less.

      But if it were me, I would have repurposed the cheapest existing phone on the market. Try to get the price point as low as possible, and expect the market to be completely niche. Write code to make the phone work with a little polish for only the most basic needs, and let people make their own apps to do the rest. Spend as little money as possible on the project, and have everything open source - both aimed to guarantee that it never dies. Expect it to take a long ti

      • Years ago, I had similar thoughts about PalmOS 6. Instead of flailing around trying to convince US carriers to offer a phone of unknown value running PalmOS 6, they should have worked with HTC to make it available as a consumer-reflashable guerrilla update for the HTC PPC-6700 (Sprint)/XV6700 (Verizon) (and whatever the GSM cousin of that particular model happened to be). I'm not sure about AT&T/T-Mobile/GSM-land, but I remember that the 6700 was one of the most popular "PDA Phones" *ever* offered by Sp

  • I approached the (then) product manager responsible for the OS and proposed a fork in their route-to-market. My pitch was to create an OS for devices built for industry that were being sold running Microsoft® Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 & Microsoft® Windows® CE and are still be actually sold today.

    At the time companies developing and selling devices were not investing in developing new MS mobile OS devices cuz the OS is long dead and the cost of creating new platforms (they still sell

  • "A developer who worked with the Ubuntu Phone project has outlined the reasons for its failure"

    Ubuntu Phone failed because Canonical failed to engage with the developers and didn't do a deal with the telecoms to provide a rich user experience. Like apple did with the original Apple Phone Demo [youtube.com].
  • From the start of the project, they were a bit behind Android. By the time there was a "product" (to be generous), it was far too late for a new player in the market. The android and apple markets were far too well established. They stood less of a chance than Blackberry did.

  • Usually one big problem I see with these projects is that it's difficult to both build a phone OS and come out with hardware at a manufacturing scale that allows selling the hardware people want at a price people can afford. Sony has some decently nice hardware involved in their Open Devices [sonymobile.com] project. HTC also has released kernel source code [gsmarena.com]. Maybe it would be valuable to bring the new OS first to one of these devices that already has market share and look into building mobile phone hardware later on in lif
    • Yes, it's hardly inspiring to plonk down 300euro (or whatever they were charging) for beta-level software on a Meizu or a BQ - I mean honestly who had heard of these manufacturers before? Using company money to purchase one as a developer device, perhaps, but for consumers to buy one for use as a daily driver, only the very keen.

      Sailfish's collaboration with Xperia seems interesting if Sony would do the legwork to assist in porting the OS to each and every device. That way the curious can buy an off the she

      • I'm not sure Sony has to do the legwork if they provide access. If the people at Jolla are competent at writing software, porting shouldn't be too difficult for them. I think it's very cool that Sony is providing the access.
  • Remember how much we love how Microsoft decided to make a common interface across all platforms and resulted in making the Windows interface (particularly the now-usesless start men) worse? Mark Shuttleworth must have thought to himself. "You know, that strategy is absolutely going to work for Microsoft. And while we have neither the desktop market or the smartphone market, let's try it!"

    (And, as a guy who does UI work from time-to-time over a decade... Hundreds of apps that use Qt [wikipedia.org], but how many use QML [wikipedia.org]? I

  • The Ubuntu phone was a me-too thing. No one asked for it, wanted it, or bought it.
    And yet, Ubuntu ran their game into the ground supporting Unity, and for what?

    Let this be a lesson to all the me-too, flash-in-the-pan bullshit instigators.
  • Reading the article it sounds like the openmoko all over again

  • ...and it's still working thanks to convergence. She even started to appreciate the desktop experience ;-)

Memory fault -- core...uh...um...core... Oh dammit, I forget!

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